I’ve been so busy lately that I almost didn’t notice it is my favorite time of year. I love fall. The sun, lower in the sky, loses it’s summer brightness and dims to cast a warm glow. The shadows it casts become long stretching across the landscape. Trees turn beautiful hues of yellow, orange and red. The markets are brimming with the last of summer’s offerings and beginnings of the fall harvest. Life is abundantly good! What a great time to celebrate…and that’s what the Chinese thought way back in 2000BC when idol worship was all the rage. Back then, and at this time of year the idol of choice was the Moon of course. Who couldn’t help but notice on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month the moon shone big bad and bright. Exhausted from the long summer days working the land and the harvest finally all in, someone thought – what a great time to have an all night party when you could actually see who you were partying with and not have to bother with all those smokey torches.
Well, I suppose times have changed and idol worship is out so now we call it tradition. Through the years the celebratory traditions of the Autumn Moon Festival (or Harvest Moon Festival) has evolved. The current tradition of giving moon cakes to relatives and friends began relatively recently during the Sung Dynasty in 1100 AD. Moon cakes, round to symbolize reunion, are eaten with family and friends while gazing up at the harvest moon. And, if you can’t be with your loved ones at least you would all be gazing up at the same moon thinking of each other.
I love moon cakes. What are moon cakes? Nothing like moon pies though those are pretty darn tasty too. Moon cakes are a very solid – some liken them to the holiday fruit cake – disc shaped pastry ranging in diameter of a little over an inch to three inches (think hockey puck.) There are probably hundreds of varieties of moon cakes made but typically a moon cake is filled with a sweet filling like lotus bean or red bean paste or ground nuts all wrapped in a brown sugar pastry. Sometimes you will find a salted egg yolk in the middle.
Where can you find one of these moon cakes you ask? Well, head on down to your local Chinatown bakery or even grocer and you will find lots of them. Some fancier Chinese Dim Sum restaurants will even offer them. If you go to a bakery though, you can try out a few varieties to see which ones you like. My favorite is the lotus seed paste with an egg yolk.
Well, off to San Francisco Chinatown to enjoy the Autumn Moon Festival and get myself a few cakes.