These days the tsukimi (月見) is held, or all those activities to admire and honor the full Autumn moon. Less famous in the West than hanami, shorter, but equally popular in Japan. Below the description you can find the mochi recipe!
photo credit: contri DSC_9973 via photopin (license)
The tsukimi is traditionally held the eighth month of the Wareki calendar, which was the Japanese calendar in use until the Meiji Restoration. Contrary to the Gregorian calendar, which is solar, the Japanese calendar is lunisolar: this way, the tsukimi has correspondence in the months of September or October.
The tradition dates back to the Heian period (平安時代- from 794 to 1185), included in the Autumn Festival, when the Japanese aristocrats gathered to admire the full Moon, eulogizing the beauty with poems and songs and making boat trips to look at the reflection.
Celebrating the full Moon during the autumn and harvest festivals is not just a Japanese tradition but, like many others, it is common in many parts of the world, if not in all. In fact, since approximately 1700 in Europe, the terminology of Harvest Moon is used: the Moon of this period, in fact, rises between 20 and 30 minutes after sunset and, by position with respect to the Earth and the Sun, it is also one of the brightest. Farmers could take advantage of this fact to stay longer in the fields, gathering the crop faster.
Here are more examples around the world. In India, where the rainy season has just ended, the full Moon, clearly visible and luminous, brings joy and serenity and festivals are held to honor it. In the Islamic calendar the full Moon falls into one of the sacred months; in the Hebrew one, the Autumn Moon marks the beginning of the festivity of the Sukkot, which will last for a whole week.
Returning to the tsukimi, as in any good festival, there are decorations (with Pampas grass) and typical foods, including mochi and dango, but also dishes made with seasonal foods such as taro, sweet potatoes, chestnuts and pumpkin.
Yesterday I was admiring the full Moon from the window, thanking it to be there, and I thought I had nothing to offer. Then I remembered that I have glutinous rice flour, the right one to prepare mochi! Sweet, with the azuki (red beans) paste. Now, if in your city there is an Oriental supermarket, you can find the ingredients quite easily, even without going crazy on the internet.
Recipe for the red bean paste: 1 cup of beans, water at discretion and sugar to taste.
Boil at least once the beans to remove the sour taste; better if you have time and repeat for two or three times. Then, fill the pot so that the water covers the beans well (about 1/3 beans and 2/3 water): keep under control and add water if needed. Every half hour remove the foam. When you touch the beans and they are soft, add the sugar (personal taste, I used the same amount as for the beans) and stir. When the mixture thickens, remove from the heat and blend. Put in a container to cool.
Azuki’s paste is one of those things that makes you at peace with the world.
Recipe for mochi: 1 cup of glutinous rice flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of water. You can do more, but with these proportions.
Use a high temperature resistant bowl for safety. Combine flour and water and stir. If it seems that it doesn’t join well, wet the spoon (do not add any more water!). Add the sugar and stir. Put the bowl in a saucepan of boiling water and cover. When the mixture is slightly thickened and appears glossy, remove from the heat. Flour a chopping board or work surface (you can use rice flour or potato starch) and pour over the mochi. After letting it cool, flour your hands and pick a small amount of mochi, create a ball and then flatten it. Make a smaller ball with the paste and put it in the middle of the mochi. Close and reshape the ball. Continue until there’s no more mochi left. You can use the same cards and molds for muffins or cupcakes to keep the shape of the mochi. If you have bought mochi and have kept its boxes, even better! Just remember to flour your hands every time, because mochi sticks.
Now that you have mochi round as the full Moon…. offer it and enjoy!