Mooncake is made and enjoyed in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Festival’s origins date to the 1600s BCE, and in the past it encouraged people to moon-watch. Today it’s mostly a time to gather with friends and family over large meals. However, many people have not forgotten that the Festival is linked to myths and legends about the Moon Goddess of Immortality, Chang’e:
“In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to the people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang’e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang’e keep the elixir. However, Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang’e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang’e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.” (Wikipedia)
Image from: chineseart.tumblr.com
This legend explains why mooncake is so central to the Festival. During our visit to Shanghai in the autumn months, whole bakeries converted nearly all their offerings to mooncake and lines of customers stretched out the door. China’s strong cultural influence has spread this tasty treat throughout Asia.
A thin, soft pastry surrounds the thick and smooth filling. Traditional mooncakes are made from either red bean or lotus seed paste, but there are many other fillings, including chocolate, green tea and fruits. The cakes often contain an egg yolk (or sometimes more) to symbolize the full moon. There are also savoury versions, most famously Xian rou yue bing, a ground pork filled pie that originated in Shanghai but is now popular throughout China.
The lovely family that runs Seasoned Fusion in Saskatoon gifted us with a big, delicious mooncake. They looked extra long and hard for a bakery that made them with two yolks in each cake. Taking their instructions, we warmed it very gently in the microwave and enjoyed it with a strong tea. Over the moon delicious!