Preparation time: 2 hours
Makes 20 moon cakes
Recipe Number 2
Harvest Moon Cakes
Harvest Moon Festival
The harvest moon festival in China is held during the bright full moon of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, usually in September. People celebrate the harvest and retell the story of Chang O or Chang E, the woman who lives on the moon with her companions, a rabbit and a toad. Occasionally people burn moon papers, which have pictures of rabbits or toads on them. Friends and relatives give each other special pastries called Moon Cakes. Chinese bakery shelves are loaded with many different varieties of moon cakes. They can contain red bean paste, almond paste, eggs, candied fruit, nuts, dates, or lotus paste. They may alternatively be salty, with a meat or vegetable filling. They are baked in special molds and an egg yolk glaze gives them a shiny and golden look. These cakes often have flower designs, leaf designs, or a Chinese letter on top.
Above is an adapted recipe. Moon cake molds can be ordered, but the recipes above suggest hand-shaping the cookies into circles.
Chang O is the woman who lives in the moon. Hou Yi is her husband and he is associated with the sun. Some legends indicate Chang O visits her husband, Hou Yi, during the harvest moon festival when the moon shines largest in the night sky. Originally, Hou Yi and Chang O were mortals. Hou Yi was an officer in the Yellow Emperor's imperial guard.
According to one story, 10 suns lived in the heavens and would alternatively visit the earth on different days. One day, all 10 suns rose in the sky and began to burn up the earth with their fierce heat. At the command of the Yellow Emperor, Hou Yi, a skilled archer, felled nine of the suns with his arrows. The Queen Mother of the Western Heaves and the other immortals decided to award Hou Yi and gave him either an elixer of immortality or a pill of immortality. He hid the pill in a straw-thatched roof and told his wife of his good fortune. He then departed to prepare himself to take the pill through fasting and prayer for a year.
Chang O discovered the pill in the rafters of the house and decided she should share in her husband's immortality.
Upon taking the pill, Chang O's body became weightless and she began to rise into the air. Her husband returned and was very angry. In fear of his wrath and his enchanted arrows, she flew to the moon. The moon was very beautiful, with many fragrant cinnamon trees. She coughed up the outer shell of the pill, which transformed into her companions, the rabbit and the toad.
China is very far from Italy and quite probably this story is unconnected to Aradia and Diana. Nevertheless, it's a charming story and Chinese moon cakes are a delightful treat.
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