If you have read some of my previous posts about Chuseok, you know now it is considered like a Korean Thanksgiving. One important addition to this celebration (probably the most important) is the remembrance and honoring of their ancestors. It is one of their most important Korean holidays. This holiday is also celebrated under the name Mid-Autumn Festival in many other Asian countries. By the way if you celebrate this Festival have a deliciously happy one!
Today, I wanted to focus on one particular food item, the Songpyeon, one of the staples of Chuseok. Many families make them and gift them. And what exactly is it? According to Wikipedia, Songpyeons are half-moon shaped rice cakes that typically contain sweet or semi-sweet fillings, such as soybeans, cowpeas, chestnuts, jujubes, dates, red beans, sesame seeds, or honey. They are steamed over a layer of pine needles, which gives them a distinctive taste and the fragrant smell of fresh pine trees. The name Songpyeon comes from the use of pine needles—”song” means pine tree, thus, songpyeon translates to “pine cakes.”
I know…Cowpeas? Jujubes? What? So cowpeas are black eyes peas:
And these are jujubes:
Songpyeon is used to show gratitude for the year’s harvest by placing it on a table with other foods, including harvested fruit, and taro. These three foods symbolize, respectively, the fruit of the heavens, the fruit of the earth, and the fruit of the underground.
Songpyeon is also said to represent the moon and wishes, which is why people will say their wishes while making and eating it. Many stories describe why songpyeon is in the shape of a half moon rather than a full moon. The most common belief is that Korean ancestors thought that a round-shaped full moon could only wane while a half-moon would fill up. This is considered a sign of abundance and prosperity.
An old Korean anecdote says that the person who makes beautifully-shaped songpyeon will meet a good spouse or give birth to a beautiful baby. I’m glad for Ilwoo, his songpyeon must be absolutely beautiful so… !
There are many variations of Songpyeon depending on the region in South Korea.
In Seoul is they are known for its small, five-colored or osaek songpyeon (오색송편). The five colors—white, brown, pink, green, and yellow—represent the harmony of nature. White songpyeon lacks any color additives, but the other colors are obtained using natural ingredients. These are some of the ingredients Koreans use to color them naturally:
Green – mugwort powder (Ssuk Garu 쑥가루)
Yellow – pumpkin powder (Danhobak Garu 단호박 가루), gardenia seed pods (Chija 치자) but sometimes the taste can be a bit strange after a while
Red – Cockscomb flower (Maendrami 맨드라미), Beets
Pink – Youth berry or magnolia vine (Omija 오미자) aka Schisandra chinensisis is a red berry that has 5 flavors, raspberry juice
Purple – blueberry juice, purple grapes, purple sweet potato
They look like this:
If you are interested in trying to make them, HERE is an excellent website showing the steps.
In the Chungcheong province, known for its pumpkins, they have a pumpkin songpyeon. The pumpkins are dried and ground into a powder which is then mixed with the rice flour to make the dough. The rice cakes are often shaped to look like small pumpkins. The result is a sweet rice cake that is bright in color.
Sadly I’ve run out of time so I can’t do region by region which was my intention…so here are some other variations from the rest of the country. If you want to read more about how Koreans celebrate this holiday you can go HERE.
Such a lovely tradition. I can imagine Ilwoo with his family… making them …and his laugh!
May GOD bless you, your family and ancestors Ilwoo Ssi! Have a great time together!
Had to delight in that sweet Songpyeon one more time!