Long country drives. Check. Spotting smatterings of orange, red, and yellow hues on still mostly green leaves out the car window. Check. Warm, sun-filled days that are just a little shorter, ending before you hoped they would, always a little chillier and crisper than expected. Check. Candy corn, corn mazes, and golden pumpkins (say what?). Check. Check. Check. We did it all.
It’s falltime folks. Obviously. Is falltime a questionable word to talk about autumn? Supposedly. Do I care? Nope. Am I glad I got to experience my usual falltime festivities? Yep. But wasn’t I in China, you ask? Do they have all of those glorious things in China too? Nope and nope.
We took advantage of two Middle Kingdom public holidays that occur within ten days of each other and went home (thank you, calendar gods!). National Day is the holiday that shut the country down during the first week in October, thus making travel within its borders — and, as I found out, to the U.S. — crazy. Basically, it’s the “Ra! Ra! Ra! We love Mao and bleed Red!” holiday, similar to our 4th, with our “Yeah! Yeah! Yeahs! Give us our hot dogs, beer, fireworks, and First and Second Amendments!”
And, even though the Mid-Autumn Festival only gets people out of work for one September day each year, it’s the holiday that everyone looks forward to. As we Americans go all-out in preparation for Halloween, the Chinese get busy marking the changing seasons with family get-togethers and mooncakes — China’s answer to Meiguo’s delightfully delicious caramel apples. The Mid-Autumn Festival is also called Moon Festival because it’s celebrating the autumnal equinox, aka the harvest moon.
Really, Iggy and I kind-of got the best of both worlds this fall. We got a much-needed trip home and I had my first mooncake experience. Me being me, I got excited to share this new falltime thing. So I made like a Chinese person and filled up my suitcase with boxes of beautifully packaged mooncakes for everyone back home. Aren’t I nice? Thoughtful, some would say.
But, actually, I was doing a little trick and treating because while there were one or two mooncake varieties that I loved with a capital L, there were many others that I Loathed. The mooncake. Hmmm….how to describe it? It’s a baked good, pie-like in nature, though it can rest nicely in the palm of one’s hand thanks to its thin, hard, intricately designed, egg-washed crust.
It’s densely packed with various types of filling, my favorite being the strawberry mooncake, followed by the only one I encountered that had a flaky, dull crust: the sesame paste mooncake. These varieties had one thing that I expect from all desserts: sweetness, which isn’t common in Chinese treats. The other mooncakes I sampled ranged from somewhat okay (the ground nut varieties) to the “EW! OMG get it out of my mouth! I want it out of my mouth now! I’m spitting it out onto the street and I don’t care what anyone thinks of me!” (the let’s put every dirt encrusted seed we can find on the side of the road and mash it up, along with decades old dried fruit, and call it a treat variety).
There were a few varieties I just couldn’t bring myself to try, so I enlisted the help of others like my chef-brother who barely braved his way through one bite of the duck egg mooncake (hard-boiled, folks…let’s not get too imaginative). I can’t blame him for hardly being able to swallow this and I thank him for giving us all a good laugh. But, I was surprised that NO ONE liked the mooncakes, not even the good strawberry or sesame paste ones. Have my taste buds changed after ten months of living in China? What will happen after four years?
Needless to say, mooncakes will not become part of our families’ falltime traditions, but we might have discovered something else to add on this trip: the Golden Pumpkin. Ever heard of it? We hadn’t either until we visited a Pennsylvania farm that for a sinful $12 a person allowed us to indulge in pumpkin patches and hayrides. The Golden Pumpkin, we learned, was what you got if the husked ear of corn you shot out of a potato gun hit a car that sat out in the middle of a cornfield.
Thanks to Iggy, we all got to experience the pleasure of holding a Golden Pumpkin, as well as, the envious stares from all the parents who couldn’t snag the prize for their own lil punkins.