The eighth Chinese mid-lunar moon marks the
Moon's birthday and is believed to be the only night of the year when
the moon appears perfectly round. At the time of the Moon Festival,
special moon-viewing parties are held with much wine and feasting, and
poems composed to the moon. Moon cakes are generally packaged in boxes
of four cakes and are a traditional gift from one family to another.
The reason why moon cakes are so meaningful
goes back to the 14th century when China was overrun by the Mongol
invaders who ruled the country in a cruel and oppressive fashion. The
women of the households devised a clever way to organize an uprising.
They inserted messages in the filling of the moon cakes given and
received during the Moon Festival, conveying secret instructions to
patriots who could be depended on to join in the struggle that ended in
war and liberation.
Moon cakes are not easy to make, as special,
elaborately carved wooden mounds have to be used to shape them. Most
Westerners find the filling made from solid lotus seed paste
unpalatable, especially with the salted egg yolk in its center. If
possible, try to find moon cakes with a filling of preserved melon and
melon seeds. For anyone with a sweet tooth this is irresistible,
especially when cut into thin wedges and nibbled while drinking clear,
fragrant Chinese tea.
It is the packaging of moon cakes that makes
them tempting, usually square red and gold tins with Chinese characters
and motifs printed on them, and containing four individually wrapped
cakes. For the determined cook, the pastry should be very rich and
preferably made with at least a proportion of lard. Some popular
fillings are candied fruits or sweetened lotus seed paste.