The Etrog and the Moon Cake: Autumn Festivals on the LES
Though we don’t do much farming in New York City (we’ll talk about some notable exceptions at a Culinary Conversation next spring), we still have an array of harvest-time celebrations to choose from!
The 15th day of the 8th lunar month (September 30 this year) marked the Chinese Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival. This is a holiday for family gatherings and meals, not unlike Thanksgiving. Depending on where it’s celebrated, the festival also means matchmaking, lanterns, and of course moon cakes.
These dense cakes have various tasty fillings like sweet bean paste, and sometimes hold a hard-boiled egg yolk to represent the harvest moon. More recently, the ice cream company Haagen Dazs as started selling its own brand of moon cakes, with a dollop of mango sorbet replacing the egg yolk.
Traditional moon cakes with egg yolk
Elsewhere on the Lower East Side, our neighbors are preparing for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which falls on the week of October 1 – 8 this year. Sukkot is named for the temporary huts called Sukkah which families sleep and eat in during the weeklong holiday. During Sukkot, the “Blessing of the Four Kinds” is performed. These four elements used for this blessing are the etrog (citron), lulav (palm frond), hadassim (myrtle twigs) and aravot (willow twigs).
You don’t have to go far to find evidence of these two holidays here on the Lower East Side. Vendors sell ritual objects for Sukkot right around the corner from the Chinese bakery offering moon cakes.
A seller displays citron for sale on the Lower East Side.