The Chung Yeung Festival (重阳节) falls on the ninth day of the ninth Chinese lunar month, which this year happened to be on a Saturday – October 28.
I celebrated the day with friends in the Catskills; hiking in the woods, drinking chrysanthemum tea and sharing Chungyeung cake.
Literally translated, the festival’s name in Chinese means “double yang“. In the I Ching (aka Book of Change), a classical text that purportedly details the governing rules of the universe, numbers are categorized as being either ying or yang, with nine being a yang number.
Having double yang though is dangerous as there always needs to be a balance between ying and yang. Therefore, to counteract the overabundance of yang and protect oneself from danger, it became customary on this day for people to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor and wear the zhuyu plant (茱萸 aka Cornelian cherries). Why these three things one might ask? A logical deduction would be that all three of these things – mountains, chrysanthemum, zhuyu – are associated with ying and all to be found at their peak beauty in autumn.
In Chinese tradition, nine also holds distinction as the highest digit. Once you get to ten, you are simply repeating one and zero. Over time, this evolved into Chung Yeung taking on additional significance as both a day to pay respects to one’s ancestors and also to celebrate and appreciate the elderly. In Taiwan, the day was officially rededicated in 1966 as Senior Citizens’ Day.
Chongyueng cake (重阳糕) began to gain popularity during Tang Dynasty. By the time of the Song Dyansty, the cake was to be found throughout major cities in China and gained symbolism in relation to the festival as a means to appreciate and value the importance of family and friends, and to honor the memory of family members and friends who have passed.
Moreover, the word for “cake” (糕) in Chinese sounds like the one for “height” (高) and thus it is considered a lucky food.
While many variation of the cake exists today, it is typically a steamed cake made primarily of rice flour with a layer of red bean paste sandwiched in between and topped with jujube, chestnut, almonds, etc.
The recipe for the Chungyeung cake pictured above:
- Rice flour – 120g
- Glutinous rice flour – 120g
- Water – 120g
- Sugar – 40g
- Red bean paste (buy pre-made from any Chinese supermarket, or to make your own, refer to Cool and Healthy Matcha Ice Cream, adding 1 cup corn or tapioca starch instead of 1 cup water to thicken the paste)
- Dried fruits and nuts as desired
- Mix thoroughly rice flour, glutinous rice flour, water and sugar, let sit for 4 hours
- Run mixture twice through a sifter to break apart any clumps
- Place mixture in a pan/dish
- In a steamer, add water to base and let boil
- Place the pan/dish unto the second layer and steam for 4 minutes
- Add layer of red bean paste, then the remaining mixture and top with dried fruits and nuts as desired
- Steam for an additional 30 minutes
- Remove from heat, let cool and serve