In Australia, children in the many Chinatowns and in the multicultural parts of many cities wait for the Moon Festival when Asian stores are crammed full of red moon cake boxes and shiny red paper lanterns hanging in front of stores. The Moon Festival takes place on 30 September in 2012.
They have been told, of course, the story of the moon goddess who appears at full moon. Stories abound, linking fact, imagination and legend. Grandmothers retell the story each year to a new set of children. A story of the gracious Lady Chang’er who mistakenly swallows a pill intended for her husband and is transformed into gossamer lightness. She becomes as light as a butterfly’s wings, and floats away to the moon to escape the pursuit of her warrior husband who, because of his misdeeds, is bound to earth to repent his evil ways forever.
A historical incident, an important political incident connected to the Moon Festival has gone down in history to be celebrated. It is the story of oppression. Chinese in the 13th century were tired of the oppressive Monguls who governed them, and found a way to organise a rebellion against their masters.
Knowing the Monguls did not care to eat moon cakes, they filled these cakes with notes with instructions informing them of the rebellion and passed them to all their people. Everyone followed orders and easily overthrew wicked foreigners. Their freedom is celebrated with the sharing of moon cakes and the lighting of colourful lanterns.
The moon and this special festival still fascinates both adults and children. Its craters seem to change to animals, beautiful ladies and mountain tops. The full moon is a time when the dark places of night are lit with bright lanterns, creating a rainbow of colour, movement and fun.
It is a time for happy, laughing children at lantern parades enjoying an evening sweetened with lotus-paste filled moon cakes. At every Mid-Autumn Moon Festival time stands still and adults are children once more. The moon conjures magic and recalls legends, precious legacies of the past. This is a time when along with the offerings to the lady in the moon, neighbours and friends exchange gifts in a happy renewal of friendship and lovers renew vows with romantic trysts in the moonlight.
The lanterns children used to carry in the past were simply designed fish, rabbits and globes, all bright red with bamboo candle holders. Today, there are spaceships, sports cars, transformer like characters and Homer Simpsons as well as Mickey Mouses—no longer in red - the colour of life - but in modern neon blues, greens and silver greys.
Even the prices of these moon lanterns have jumped along with inflation. Find the best of these lanterns in your local Chinatown or Vietnamese markets and bite into a sweet moon cake to satisfy your inner yearnings.
Moon cakes are circular like the full moon, symbolic of the never ending cycle of life which encloses yin and yang. The food served at the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is sweet feminine food. Sometimes there are tiny yams (taro), steamed or boiled and rolled in sugar, sugared melon strips dunked in malt sugar and served with sweetened taro.
Moon cakes have grown into status symbols today. In times gone by they were round, surrounded by soft lard pastries, and stuffed with melon seeds, chestnuts and egg yolk to symbolise the moon. You had to pick through the nuts to get to the sweet lotus paste. Today they come in squares, rabbit shapes, lotus shapes all packed in beautiful wrappers and containers.
Moon cakes using lotus paste The pastry is pushed into wooden moulds of rabbits, dragons and round moon shapes. The moulds are available in Chinese stores and cost about $16 to $20. This recipe illustrates the method without an expensive mould.
450g prepared lotus paste ( available from “yum cha” shops )
80 g melon seeds or pine nuts
120 g chestnuts, boiled, skinned and chopped
4 whole salted egg yolks
1 packet ready-made short-crust pastry
Oil for greasing large muffin tins (5/6cm deep x 10cm wide)
Egg wash from 1 eggMethod
1. Grease large muffin pan. Cut a round of pastry double the size of the muffin pan. Press into greased muffin pan carefully.
2. Make a ball of lotus paste, adding nuts and inserting a yolk in each. Place lotus ball in pastry-lined muffin pan, pressing down to fill the pan.
3. Attach pastry lid and press down on edges with a fork to seal.
4. Brush pastry tops with egg wash. Bake at 190 deg C for about 20 mins or until the pastry muffins are golden brown.
5. Allow to rest and then slice and serve. Best served the same day or the next.