The Mid-Autumn festival is sometimes called the Mooncake festival because of the practice of giving family and friends mooncake. I have about 50 of them from students and university administration sitting on my desk as paperweights right now. Frankly, they are like American fruitcake. Good for nothing but to give away for endless generations. I actually tried one today just to see what they taste like. Now that I have to go to the dentist to fix my chipped tooth I can say I am actually delighted with my first taste. I made an archeological discovery. I found a piece of Chinese newsprint dated 1784 during the Ming Dynasty. Apparently the Emperor at the time was reported to feign illness in an effort to excuse himself from having to eat one of these horrid things.
The experience with mooncake reminded me of my first experience with fruitcake. I inherited the family fruitcake. I found it under my bed when I was 12. Fruitcake is the only food durable enough to become a family heirloom. It had been in my grandmother’s possession since 1911 when she brought over from Sweden, and she passed it to me in 1962. Surprisingly, she left it to me in her will….I would have renounced my inheritance except for the sentiment of the thing, for the family fruitcake was the symbol of our family’s roots. It had been baked by her great-grandfather in 1794 as a Christmas gift for King George in England. King George, with his ethical standards, as low as they were for Royalty, sent it back with thanks, explaining that he thought it unseemly for Kings to accept gifts weighing more than 40 pounds, even though they were only six inches in diameter…There is no doubt…about the fruitcake’s great age. Sawing into it 38 Christmasses ago, I came across a Chinese coin. I am sure now that the person who invented fruitcake is also the same person who invented mooncakes. But how would I know? I have no wisdom teeth anymore.