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Wonona's Kitchen Celebrates August Moon Festival

by Wonona Wong Chang

Holidays and Celebrations

Fall Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(3) page(s): 5, 6, and 7

It was such a thrill to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon in June of 1969. But at the same time, like many others, I was rather upset and disillusioned. My childhood tales of the beautiful goddess of the moon, Tsang O, were destroyed forever.

When we were young, we admired and worshipped Tsang O not only for her beauty but also for her courage as the first lady in Chinese history to leave her husband, the Emperor, because he was such a cruel person.

During the Hsia Dynasty (2200 - 1786 B.C.E.), one of the Emperors, Ho Yi was a very cruel ruler. One day he obtained an herb for the fountain of youth from a magician. After getting it, he beheaded the fellow because he did not want it given to others. The Empress, Tsang O, however, did not want the people to suffer forever under the rule of her husband so she stole the elixir, swallowed it, and became immortal. She then climbed up the rainbow to the moon to escape her husband. Since then, no one has been able to travel to the moon by the rainbow. So at the August Moon Festival, people make moon cakes in the shape of a full moon to celebrate and remember Tsang O's good deed. (This information was obtained from Ms. Beatrice Tang, a well-known Chinese scholar.)

The lunar calendar is based upon the moon's cycles. At the beginning of each month, the moon is waxing and on the 15th the moon is full. After the 15th, the moon in waning. Each month has twenty-nine or thirty days. In order to keep up with the Julian calendar, the lunar calendar occasionally has to leap a month. This year (1995), the leap month is the eighth month. So we will have two August moon festivals which are on September 9th and October 9th.

There are four seasons in the lunar year. Spring is the first, second, and third months; summer the next three months, fall the 7th, 8th, and 9th months, and winter the last three or 10th, 11th, and 12th months. The 15th of the 8th month in the mid-point of Autumn so we call it Tsung Cheo which means mid-autumn. For Chinese people, the August moon is the prettiest and most round of them all.

Although my family resided in Indonesia, my parents came from China, and our family still observed the Chinese festivals and customs. I remember when we were young, on the August moon festival, my sisters, cousins, and friends would help mother and aunts set up a table in the courtyard. The table would be covered with a red embroidered tablecloth. On that we placed a brass ceremonial pot and burned incense in it. Then we arranged flowers and surrounded it with moon cakes, oranges, pears, water caltrops, lotus and watermelon seeds.

The grown-ups would sit around chatting, eating watermelon seeds, and drinking tea while the girls would recline on a straw mat giggling and telling each other stories. Our eyes would gaze up at the moon, because we were told on this special night Tsang O would put on her beautiful gown and powder her face. Since she is immortal, any powder that fell down from the moon onto our faces we believed would make our skin forever young. A night such as that under the tropical moonlight was a very special event for us, and it has been etched in my mind forever.

There is another legend about the August moon. As the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty was waning, Chu Hung Wu and his partner Liu Bo Wen were plotting to overthrow the Mongols (or foreigners). Their revolutionary movement was very popular but it took from 1356 to 1382 C.E. to unseat them. In the last and successful campaign to overthrow them, the uprising coincided with the August Moon Festival and the people fighting the Mongols hid their messages of war in the moon cakes to avoid detection. Chu Hung Wu with Liu Bo Wen's help eventually unified China and became the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. So the moon cake became a symbol of patriotism, freedom, and independence. Unfortunately, much of the folklore is lost these days. We enjoy the moon cake as just another Chinese delicacy.

Among the many kinds of moon cakes, the Cantonese ones are the most popular and delicious. The main variations are in their fillings and these include those with bean paste, lotus seed paste, bean paste with a salt egg yolk, and Jing Hua ham (can be substituted with Smithfield ham) mixed with nuts and melon seeds.

The Cantonese moon cake is about one and a half to two inches thick, very solid and quite rich. We often cut them into quarters or smaller and serve small pieces of them. They are available in Chinese groceries or bakeries early in the 8th month. After the 15th of the month, they are no longer stocked, so do your own stocking up early or try the ones that follow. These home-made recipes make moon cakes that are soft with slightly crunchy crusts. The fillings are rich but not as greasy as those made commercially.
Cantonese Moon Cakes II
1 eighteen-ounce can of bean paste
1/4 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons peanut oil
6 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 egg
1. Mix eight heaping tablespoons of bean paste with eight teaspoons of nuts for the filling. Divide into eight portions.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, and sugar; sift it twice.
3. Add peanut oil and corn syrup to the flour mixture; mix it well then knead it until it becomes a soft dough. Divide into eight parts.
4. Roll each piece into an eight inch circle leaving it slightly thicker in the center and thinner at the edges.
5. Place one portion of filling in center of the dough, gather the edges and form a ball.
6. Dust a moon cake mold with a little flour then press the ball into it and pat firmly. Turn the mold over, tap it until you have dislodged the moon cake. Repeat until all cakes are made. If you can not get a wooden mold, muffin or popover tins work well.
7. Arrange the eight moon cakes on a lightly greased baking sheet and brush lightly with egg yolk. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
Note: The bean paste usually comes in an 18-ounce can and can be used for two or three recipes. Wrap any unused bean paste with plastic freezer wrap and store in the freezer. It can keeps for about half a year.
Approximate nutrient analysis for one moon cake:
Calories 227 Kc
Carbohydrate 44 g
Protein 7.7 g
Sodium 87 mg
Total Fat 2.6 g
Saturated fat 0.7 g
Cholesterol 54 mg
Silver Moon Cakes II
2 cups canned lotus seed paste or bean paste
Water dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
dash of salt
Oil dough:
1 cup all purpose flour
6 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1. Divide paste into twenty portions, and shape each of them into a ball.
2. Make water dough by mixing all its ingredients. Knead until smooth and elastic. Shape into long roll and divide into twenty portions. Roll each into a round ball.
3. Make oil dough by mixing flour and butter until smooth and elastic. Shape it into a long roll and cut into 20 pieces; shape them into round balls.
4. Flatten a water dough ball into a three inch pancake then place oil dough ball on it. Gather water dough skin to completely enclose the oil dough making a round ball. With rolling pin, flatten the ball to about a 2 by 4 inch strip, turn it and roll up the narrow way. Repeat this flattening and rolling a few times. The final time make it into a three inch pancake about 1/4 inch thick.
5. Put one portion of filling on dough and gather edges around to form a ball. Flatten this slightly to form a two inch round cake. Repeat until all dough and filling has been used.
6. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet and to be authentic, mark top with a bit of red food coloring using a chop stick or other implement. Bake in a preheated oven set at 375 degrees fahrenheit.
Note: This recipe which makes twenty moon cakes can freeze well when the moon cakes are individually wrapped in plastic freezer wrap.
Approximate nutrient analysis for one moon cake:
Calories 227 Kc
Carbohydrate 44 g
Protein 8 g
Sodium 81 and 1/2 mg
Total Fat 2.6 g
Saturated fat 0.7 g
Cholesterol 54 mg
Easy Tasty Moon Cake II
1/2 cup flour
2 Tablespoons margarine, melted
1 can bean paste or lotus seed paste
1 package Crescent Rolls
1 egg, beaten
1. Mix flour and margarine to make an oil dough. Knead until smooth and divide into eight portions.
2. For filling, take one teaspoon of bean paste and roll it into a ball; make eight of these balls.
3. Divide Crescent Roll dough into eight pieces, roll each up into a ball and flatten into a three-inch circle. Put oil dough in center and gather dough around it to make a ball. Repeat until all are made this way.
4. With your hands, shape this into a strip about two-inches wide and four-inches long. Roll this strip into a ball and flatten to make it pancake shaped. Use your thumb to make a depression in the middle of each piece of dough and place bean paste there. Enclose the dough around this and flatten to make moon cake about two-inches in diameter.
5. Arrange on a greased baking sheet and brush top with beaten egg.
6. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: One can omit the oil dough and only use the Crescent Roll dough, The result will not be as flaky.
Approximate nutrient analysis per moon cake
Calories 227 Kc
Carbohydrate 44 g
Protein 8 g
Sodium 82 mg
Total Fat 3 g
Saturated fat 1 g
Cholesterol 54 mg

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