My Chinese-American husband grew up in Hawaii, then moved to Los Angeles. Not only did he not care about different seasons, I’m not even sure he knew what they were until I took him to New Hampshire and Washington D.C.
His immigrant family wasn’t big on holidays, either, whether American or Chinese. The man didn’t even have a Christmas stocking until I gave him one.
In September, I confronted my husband. “Why have you been keeping the Mid-Autumn festival from me?”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Liar! It’s a huge deal. There are family gatherings! Special foods! Why don’t we ever do anything?”
“I dunno. I didn’t think you’d care about it.”
“Seriously? I go nuts for all things related to the fall season and at the Mid-AUTUMN Festival they have special desserts called mooncakes! Fall and cakes and you thought I wouldn’t care?!” I shook my head mournfully. “It’s like you don’t even know me.”
Andy snorted. “Mooncakes are not exactly like your cakes.”
“They’re called cakes. How bad can they—”
Andy interrupted. “They’re like fruitcake.”
“They have rum?”
“No, but they’re heavy and dense and sometimes they have fruit and people re-gift the crap out of them. No one actually eats them.”
“Well, you must have eaten them if you know what’s in them.”
“They’re filled with egg yolks.”
“All cakes have egg yolks. And I’m getting some for us to celebrate…what exactly are we celebrating?”
I gave up on Andy and turned to the internet. Turns out the mid-Autumn Festival is one of the oldest traditions still celebrated today, dating back to at least the 16th century B.C.E. It may have started as a harvest/ thanksgiving festival, but eventually incorporated Chang’e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality. Chang’e was originally mortal, but drank too much of her husband’s elixir of immortality. (Either to save the world because her husband was corrupt or to save the potion from an unworthy thief, depending on which version of the myth you prefer. I find the first version more realistic.) The excess of elixir sent her floating to the moon, and she’s been there ever since.
The mooncakes were created in Chang’e’s honor, possibly because they were her favorite delicacy. Chang’e devotees have traditionally prayed to her for everything from beauty to safety, especially during the full moon after the Autumn harvest. The cakes are often eaten outside, under the full moon, during the festival.
So much for Andy’s assumption that no one actually eats mooncakes. Ha!
I didn’t have much time between my discovery of mooncakes and the Mid-Autumn Festival, but I found a Chinese bakery (because you can find every food imaginable in Los Angeles). I bought their last box of mooncakes. Those mooncakes came with some dirty looks from customers behind me, looks that shouted, “Hey! What does a white girl need with mooncakes!?” But I escaped with my prize, and presented the mooncakes to Andy that evening.
I let him bite into a piece of cake first. “Well? Well? Does it taste like your childhood? What do you think?!”
Andy chewed for a few moments. He swallowed and said, “I think this is the reason Asians are not known for their desserts.”
“Really?” I took a small bite. The mooncake was filled with red bean paste. I shrugged. “It’s not bad. Reminds me of jian dui.” I took a bigger bite. And stopped chewing.
There was something besides bean paste in the mooncake. Something…salty and not soft.
It did not taste good. I swallowed and eyed my piece of mooncake. There was a circle of yellow in the center of the dark red paste. “Honey, there’s a whole cooked egg yolk in the middle of the mooncake! What the hell?!”
Andy was nonplussed. “What do you mean, ‘what the hell?’ I told you they had egg yolks. They might even be duck eggs.”
“You didn’t say they were WHOLE DRIED YOLKS! I thought they were beaten in, like regular eggs in regular cake batter. Ew! Bleech.” I pried the offending yolk out and offered it to Andy.
The man who eats bulls’ balls, sheep brains, and chicken feet demurred.
I left the yolk on the plate and finished the mooncake. It tasted much better without the yolk.
As soon as I finished, Andy waved the knife and slyly asked, “Do you want another one?”
He smirked. “See? I told you no one actually eats mooncakes.”
I smirked back and pointed to the counter behind him. “Not true.”
Andy turned in time to see our cat’s jaws close on the egg yolk.
He yelled, “Bad cat! Off the counter!”
The cat ran off with her prize. She hid under the table, growling like a feral creature until she finished eating. Like she was warning us not to touch her food.
No danger of that, kitty.
There are many varieties of mooncakes. Next year, I’ll start hunting earlier and perhaps I’ll find some different flavors. They might taste better.
But if they don’t, at least we know someone who will eat them.