Welcome, friends, to another installment of our AlcoHOLidays series, where we take a moment to raise our glass in celebration for a local or not so local holiday.
This coming weekend (September 3o, in the States, September 29, in China) is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Moon Cake Festival. Like many harvest festivals, it’s ruled by the moon phases, so the dates can shift each year but it’s usually some time in September (the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, to be specific). During this festival it’s traditional to spend time with friends and family, share moon cakes and even have a barbecue under the light of the full moon.
Like many long-standing cultural festivals, there are several stories that point to an origin but not single, definitive moment. A lot of them have to do with the lady Chang’e and her husband Hou Yi, the archer, and a pill (or pills) of immortality. The whys and wherefores are complicated, but Chang’e ends up taking the pill, and floating up to the moon. In some versions Hou Yi loves her too much to shoot her (or the moon) down, in others he’d become greedy and ambitious and his skills had suffered as a result, and therefore couldn’t shoot her down. Some say that Hou Yi eventually went to live on the Sun and once a month is able to visit the Moon, and that’s why it’s full each month.
Quaint, though that last one smacks of the whole ‘a woman is only complete with a man’ mumbo jumbo, but I don’t want to bash another cultures historical beliefs, so we’ll just stop there.
The moon cakes came into major relevance when the Han Chinese used them to spread word of a revolt against the Mongols that was scheduled to start at the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Mongols weren’t moon cake fans, apparently, and sharing moon cakes at that time was common, so they were none the wiser that little strips of paper had been inserted into the dense cakes. If it hadn’t been for those moon cakes, the famous Ming Dynasty might never have happened!
For today’s cocktail I wanted something light and crisp, to complement (not compete with) the heavy moon cakes and barbecue that it will theoretically accompany. I picked up some plum wine and some Ramune soda at the local World Market to experiment with, and this is what I came up with:
1 1/2 oz Vodka
3/4 oz Plum Wine
3/4 oz Apple Juice
pinch of powdered Ginger
Combine all ingredients over ice and shake until frosty. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a small plum (mine came from the small bottle of plum wine I used for this recipe). A little bit of ginger will dot the top of the drink.
While my other cocktail contender–a play on the classic Melon Ball–was much sweeter and looked very nice with it’s green hue next to some strawberry Pocky, this plum wine version of an Oriental Martini actually fit the bill better. Even though the plum wine was very sweet with a little bit of spice to it, combined with the vodka and juice it became a clean, bright cocktail that lovers of dirty martinis will enjoy.
I’d hope to make or procure some moon cakes to go with today’s post, but they were a little hard to come by in my neck of the woods. And while I found recipes, I didn’t start this project in near enough time to get everything in and assembled in time. Such is life; maybe next year. Instead, though, I found some mochi which, while technically not even close, some of the more modern interpretations of moon cakes do resemble. Hey, it’s round and has red bean paste inside, that counts for something. At least I didn’t go with my second (okay, third) thought and pick up some moon pies!