Traditional Moon CakeThe egg yolk inside the moon cake evokes the full harvest moon. (photo: Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

For many Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, the moon festival or mid-autumn harvest festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. That is, today, September 12th, 2011.

Legend says the wife of a great archer flew to the moon after drinking a powerful elixir that was meant for him as a reward for shooting down extra suns that were scorching the earth. It’s a time to join with family to share a traditional moon cake, a bean paste-filled sister to the American fruit cake meant for giving rather than actually eating. Families also gather to watch the scheduled full moon. The Hong Kong Observatory has even made a chart of recommended viewing times.

Harvest MoonA harvest moon. (photo: beaumontpete/ Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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thanks... love that cake..

Thanks for the story, Susan.

I don't know that I have ever paid much attention to the legend behind the Moon Festival, but I sure love moon cakes.  I haven't bought them in years, because my grandmother always sends me a box of my favorite -- lotus seed paste (a thousand times yummier than the usual red bean!) with one egg yolk per cake -- from a good bakery in Los Angeles.  Last September, she gave me my box in person because I was in LA for my cousin's wedding, and spent a few days with her.  I brought the moon cakes back to Minnesota, ate one right away, and gobbled up the second during the Moon Festival.  The other two are still in my refrigerator.  I haven't been able to eat them.

My grandmother died last October, at the age of 96, just a couple weeks after the Moon Festival.  Those two moon cakes are the last I'll ever have from her -- from her thoughtfulness and generosity.  Seeing them each time I open the egg compartment where I stashed them makes me happy.

My husband says it'd be terrible to my grandmother to let them go bad.  It's true.  She reused paper towels and never wasted food -- and moon cakes are quite the luxury at $33 for a box of four.  But I'm not sure moon cakes can go bad.  In the past, I've kept them to savor over many months, and the ones my grandmother gave me a year ago still look just fine.  That's not a quality I'd want in most of the food I consume, but with moon cakes -- especially my two remaining moon cakes -- I guess shelf-life longevity is just fine.

I'll break out one to share with my two- and four-year-old tonight.  They can recall memories of their Bak-Po, I'll tell them some new stories, and we'll talk about how she loved us so much that she's providing us moon cakes, even when she's no longer here with us.

And just in case the kids want more moon cakes, I'll stop by the store on my way home today to get a new box before they're gone for the year.  Because my last moon cake's staying the fridge.