Preparing for the Mid-Autumn Festival

5 September 2022

Summer in Hong Kong is hot, humid, and punctuated by thunderstorms and typhoons. After several months of this erratic, muggy weather, it is always a relief when autumn draws near.

In my home, the first big event of autumn is the Mid-Autumn Festival. In today’s post, I share some of the autumn homemaking traditions that I do to prepare for this traditional festival.

Honouring the Moon

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the day of the harvest moon, which is the full moon that takes place around the time of the September equinox. The harvest moon brings an abundance of luminous moonlight, and many of the traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival revolve around honouring this beautiful full moon.

For centuries, mooncakes have been associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. In the past, these traditional pastries were prepared as offerings to the moon. In keeping with this tradition, my first autumnal task involves baking mooncakes.

Mooncakes come in many varieties and flavours, so it always takes me some time to decide which type to make. This year, I opted for custard mooncakes, and I was delighted by the results. Although not a traditional filling, the golden custard is reminiscent of the glow of the harvest moon.

Making mooncakes is easy if you divide the work into three sessions. In your first session, you make the filling, which you then put into the fridge to chill. In your second session, you make the dough, which is also put in the fridge to rest. In your third session, you assemble and bake the mooncakes.

I use a mooncake press to make my homemade mooncakes look just like shop-bought ones. The mooncake press creates pretty scalloped edges and adds an intricate floral imprint.

Homemade mooncakes are worth the effort because they taste much better than shop-bought ones. Fresh from the oven, this year’s custard mooncakes tasted like little parcels of warm custard tart—crisp, buttery short pastry encasing rich, creamy custard.

Celebrating the Harvest

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for celebrating the harvest. It is the perfect time to enjoy seasonal produce, such as star fruit, pomelos, persimmons, pears, and pumpkins. Many of these seasonal foods have beautiful folklore associated with them, the knowledge of which makes the enjoyment of these seasonal foods even more nuanced.

One of my personal favourites is an old tale about pumpkins and their purported ability to bring blessings of good health. According to folklore, on a Mid-Autumn Festival many moons ago, a maiden found two pumpkins, whereupon she brought them home and cooked them for her ailing parents. To her surprise, the pumpkins had a miraculous healing effect; her parents recovered after eating the pumpkin.

To celebrate the harvest, I like to cook the inaugural steamboat of the season. On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival—which falls on the 10th of September this year—I will prepare platters of colourful raw ingredients, sliced thinly so that they cook within seconds of being dropped into a pot of bubbling broth. This simple cooking method is an excellent way to pay homage to the subtle flavours of fresh seasonal produce—and this meal will mark the first of many cosy steamboats indulged in throughout the cooler months.

Pondering Separation and Reunion

Many beautiful poems have been penned about the Mid-Autumn Festival. As this festival is a time for family get-togethers, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the verses touch on the melancholic themes of homesickness and being away from your loved ones during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In tribute to the theme of togetherness, each year on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, I brew a pot of tea to share with my husband. I use a special jade green teapot that is reserved for the occasion, and we sit down and sip several cups of tea together. I treasure these moments; they remind me that it is a blessing to spend the Mid-Autumn Festival with your loved ones.

To end this post, I leave you with a loose translation of a verse from Su Shi’s poem Water Melody, which was written during a Mid-Autumn Festival in the Song Dynasty:

People experience sadness, happiness, separation, and reunion
The moon shines, dims, waxes, and wanes
This state of affairs is as old as time
But I pray that you will be blessed with a long life
And though thousands of miles separates us
We can still share the beauty of the same moon