World of Mouth: 'Double Nine Time'

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world. This week: Chinese traditions to ward of the dangers of too much Yang.

chrysanthemum 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
chrysanthemum 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
As most of us are at least somewhat vaguely aware, in Chinese philosophy there is the concept of yin and yang - a system of complementary opposites that create a perfect balance when they come together. Problems can arise, however, when there is too much of one or the other. In Chinese numerology odd numbers are yang numbers, therefore the 9th day of the 9th month (according to the Chinese calendar), has a whole lot of yang- too much in fact and therefore certain steps must be taken to ward off possible danger.
Ideally these steps should be taken to the top of the nearest mountain, or at least a high place such as a tower or hilltop, preferably while carrying dogwood (a plant which is believed to drive away evil spirits). Both are customs handed down from the Han dynasty which are practiced to prevent disaster. This year, Double Ninth Day (also known as Chong Yang Festival) fell on October 16 and on that day, people throughout China (as well as Taiwan) were all slipping on their walking shoes and heading to the nearest high spot.
If you live in a flat place (or really hate hiking, I suppose), there is also the option of eating cake, since in Chinese, the word for cake (“gao”) sounds just like the word for tall.  There are a few different ways to make Double Ninth cakes but they are usually steamed and contain ingredients such as rice flour, sugar, chestnuts and pine nuts. Personally, if given the choice between climbing a mountain and eating cake, I don’t it’s a difficult decision. However, most people try to do both since it is seen as a great opportunity to take advantage of the last of the pleasant autumn weather and appreciate the outdoors. In 1989, the Chinese government declared that Double Ninth Day would also be “Senior Citizen’s Day.” Since the number nine in Chinese rhymes with the word for “long time,” the festival has also evolved over time into a day to appreciate and pray for longevity, thus making it the perfect day to honor the elderly.
On top of climbing mountains, warding off disaster, appreciating nature, eating cake and hanging out with the grandparents, another important tradition on Double Ninth Day is to drink wine and tea made with chrysanthemum. For the Chinese, chrysanthemum has an important significance and is considered the flower of longevity. It is thought to have cleansing qualities and is used in traditional Chinese medicine for everything from curing the flu to diminishing dizziness and blurred vision. The petals are said to have a pungent, at times even slightly spicy flavor.
To make chrysanthemum wine, it is necessary to gather the petals a year in advance in order to give them time to properly ferment. Luckily, making chrysanthemum tea is a much simpler process (see recipe below). Chrysanthemum petals are not just used for wine and tea though, and they are often included in a wide array of other Asian dishes. Both Japan and Korea have their own “Double Ninth” day (most often in September) on which cakes and pancakes made with chrysanthemum petals are eaten. The petals are also a common ingredient in soups and stews such as "Chrysanthemum Hot Pot", a sort of fondue containing different meats, fish, vegetables, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and chrysanthemum petals. The petals are also often included in snake soup and Bird’s Nest Soup (the famously pricey Chinese culinary delicacy made from the saliva nests of the swiftlet bird.
In other parts of the world, it is less common to eat chrysanthemums and the flower makes its most notable appearances at funerals, weddings and on the crooked corsages of North American teenagers attending high school dances. In recent years, however, many influential chefs have been popularizing the use of edible flowers and as a result the number of recipes including the petals for both flavor and decoration is on the rise. A quick search on the Internet revealed a number of delectable sounding dishes including , chrysanthemum sweet potatoes, and red cabbage with apples and chrysanthemum petals. They are also a tasty and unique garnish for salads (although the petals should be blanched first to avoid a bitter taste).
If you are feeling curious about chrysanthemum petals, you can easily use them to brew up some chrysanthemum tea. This tea has a floral aroma and ranges in color from pale to bright yellow.
Chrysanthemum Tea
Ingredients:-1.5 liters water-50 g dried chrysanthemum petals-rock sugar to taste-8 g (5 pieces) of Chinese licorice root (optional)-1 large spoonful of Chinese wolf berries (optional)
Directions:-Rinse and drain the chrysanthemum petals-Place the petals in water and bring to a boil-Add sugar, licorice root and Chinese wolf berries and boil for 3-5 minutes-Remove from heat and pour the liquid through a strainer, discarding the petals, licorice root and wolf berries.
Drink the tea hot or chill it for a refreshing iced tea.

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