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Once again it is the mid-autumn festival (also known as the mooncake festival), one of the most important festivals of the Chinese calendar. I hope you and your friends get together to drink rice wine while looking at the jade rabbit who mixes magic herbs on the moon!
Last year Ferrebeekeeper explored the mid-autumn festival through poetry but this year we will concentrate instead on food. The quintessential foodstuff of the mooncake festival is the mooncake, a cake which is crafted to look like the moon [Ed. this is some fine work you’re doing here], however an equally lunar-looking foodstuff is nearly as important for celebrating the holiday. The pomelo is a beloved citrus fruit which has come to be integrally associated with the mid-autumn festival. The fruit is like a giant green or chartreuse grapefruit with a yellow-white or pinkish-red interior (depending on the variety). Pomelos can be quite large with a diameter that runs between 15 and 30 centimeters (6 to 12 inches) and they can weigh up to 2 kilograms (about 4 and a half pounds). The fruit is segmented like that of an orange (albeit with a great deal more pith) and tastes like a mild sweet grapefruit. In some varieties of southern Chinese cooking, the pomelo skin is used as an ingredient in its own right.
Because of its shape, its harvesting schedule, and its delightful taste, the pomelo is a mainstay of the mid-autumn moon festival. To quote gochengdoo.com, a Chines culture blog:
In Mandarin, pomelos are called 柚子 (you zi), a homophone for words that mean “prayer for a son.” Therefore, eating pomelos and putting their rinds on the head signify a prayer for the youth in the family. In addition, the Chinese believe that by placing pomelo rinds on their heads, the moon goddess Chang’e will see them and respond to their prayers when she looks down from the moon.
The pomelo has long been cultivated in China: the first allusions to the fruit date to 100 BC, but cultivation may go back further. Many of the citrus fruits we are most familiar with, such as oranges, lemons, and limes, are the end result of centuries—or even millennia–of hybridization and selective breeding. Pomelos are an exception. Native to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, the pomelo is one of the ancestral citrus fruit and the pretty trees grow wild in the jungles of Southeast Asia. It is believed that the first sweet oranges were probably a hybridization of pomelos and mandarins. Grapefruits are probably a descendant (it is hard to tell what the exact relations are since citrus trees hybridize so readily). What is certain is that the pomelo fruit is lovely and sweet and will enhance your ability to appreciate the moon tonight!
Happy lunar viewing!
About 8,000 years ago, Neolithic people in India, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa first domesticated cattle. Although the domestication of goats and swine occurred earlier, cattle have a more central role in human history—they were sacred to many of the first civilizations in a way which goats and pigs were not. Cows and cattle are still highly esteemed today. In India cows are sacrosanct and not to be harmed, but, in herding societies like Texas or Argentina, the creatures are arguably even more important. There are estimated to be 1.3 billion head of cattle grazing the green earth today. They collectively outweigh all of the humans on the planet. Of that immense herd, what percentage would you guess are actual wild cattle–forest dwelling primogenitors from which the domestic cattle descended?
That number would be none. The aurochs, (Bos primigenius primigenius) the ancestral cow, went extinct in Poland in 1627. It was the second recorded extinction of an animal (after the hapless dodo). The aurochs were not defenseless dodos: the animals were magnificently muscled giants with wickedly sharp lyre-shaped horns. An adult male aurochs would have stood nearly 2 meters (six feet) tall at the withers and weighed over a ton. Living in swampy and wet wooded areas which they grazed for grass and the occasional fruit, aurochs shared some of their range with the wisent, the Eurasian bison. Aurochs were domesticated in various different parts of the world around the approximate same time. Unfortunately for the wild species, they soon found themselves competing for land and resources with domesticated cattle while still being hunted by human hunters.
Julius Caesar evocatively described aurochs and their hunters in the 6th chapter of The Gallic Wars writing “These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this sort of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise.” Aurochs feature in some of humankind’s most stirring early artworks showing up in cave paintings throughout Europe and on the Ishtar gate of Babylon (where they share company with ceramic lions and dragons). For all the respect that people had for aurochs, the herds began to fail fast, and populations winked out one by one in the wild redoubts of Asia, Africa, and Europe as civilization and agriculture spread.
The last aurochs lived in Poland, which was remarkable for the remote and untouched wildness of some of its forests and for the game loving policies of certain Polish kings, who tried to keep aurochs and wisents alive in order have formidable trophies to hunt. Unfortunately disease and parasites from domestic cattle had weakened the last herd beyond saving. Even with the royal threat of a death sentence for anyone killing an aurochs and with gamekeepers to look after the last individuals, the last female slipped away from natural causes in the mid-17th century. Her remains were reverentially kept by the royal house but they were stolen by Swedes during the havoc of the Swedish deluge. In one respect it was a sad end to a mighty animal. In a more real respect, cattle, the direct descendants of aurochs are everywhere and are doing great! They outweigh any other single species on the planet except perhaps for krill.