The 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. In the time of the Moon Festival, special moon-viewing parties have been 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 moon cakes are so meaningful goes back to the 14th century when China was overrun by the Mongol invaders who ruled the country at a cruel and oppressive fashion. They inserted messages in the filling of the moon cakes received during the Moon Festival, conveying secret directions to patriots who may be relied on to join in the battle that ended in war and liberation.
Moon cakes aren’t easy to make, as special, elaborately carved wooden mounds must be used to shape them. Most Westerners find the filling made from solid lotus seed paste unpalatable, especially with the salted egg yolk at its center. If possible, search for moon cakes with a filling of preserved melon and melon seeds.
It’s the packaging of moon cakes which makes them tempting, typically square gold and red 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. Captain Ellis, He’s our Hero, Gonna Take Pollution down to ZERO!