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If crickets creak, it must behanlu
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2017-10-08 07:38

FOR gourmandswho are dwelling in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the upcoming solar term,hanlu,or Cold Dew, means it’s time to havetheautumn/winterdelicacy— thehairy crab.

Hanluusually arrives on October 8 or 9, when the sun’s elliptical longitude reaches 195 degree.

This year it will fall on October 8.

From that day, cold air expands its influence in Shanghai and down south. The average temperature around the Yangtze River Deltaoften drops to below 10 degrees Celsius. In southern regions likeGuangdongProvince, it often drops to below 20 degrees.

InGuangdong, people say, “look for the bridge when crossing theriver,” suggestingthat the water is too cold around this time.

Hanluis also the harvesting season for peanuts, lotus roots, pomegranate, hawthorn and the seasonal “Cold Dew peach.”

A Chinese proverb describes the days after Cold Dew as the “three periods of waiting” — waiting for the last wild geese to fly south, waiting for the sparrows to disappear and clam to appear, and waiting for yellow chrysanthemum to bloom.

Chrysanthemum is highly appreciated in ancient China, along with plum blossom, orchid and bamboo as the “four noble characters.” In Chinese literature, chrysanthemum is often used as a metaphor for hermits who are independent and not swayed by power or money. Chrysanthemum is also used in funerals as an expression of grief.

Appreciating maple leaves is a popular activity in Beijing as the cold air turns most leaves red. It is alsothe time for cricket fighting in China, as a cricket barely lives for about 100 days.

The amateurs search for ideal crickets in the field or purchase them in the market. Two malecricketsare placed in an earthen jar for a fight. Each round lasts about 1-2 minutes; the cricket that jumps out of the jar is the loser.

Chrysanthemum wine and tea

Making wine with sticky rice, distiller’s yeast, chrysanthemum flower and leaves aroundhanluis a tradition in many areas of south China. The wine is sealed a year before drinking.

Chrysanthemum wine is also called “longevity wine” as it dispels pathogenic heat, nourishes the liver, improves eyesight,detoxicatesand relieves inflammation. Some other herbs likewolfberry, angelica and rhizomerehmanniaeare sometimes added for their medicinal value.

Fresh-water fish and crabs

Fresh-water fish often swim into warm shallow water around Cold Dew, making it easier to catch them. TheDong ethnic minority inHunan Province has a tradition of making preserved fish onhanlu. With rice wine, salt, sticky rice, pepper and ginger slices, fresh fishis processed and preserved.

Hanlualsokicks off another round of hairy crab feast. The best time to enjoy female hairy crabs is actually earlier as it usually starts to get fat with an ovaryby the ninth month on thelunar calendar. The season to enjoy male hairy crab is a month later with its richroe.

Steamingis the most common way to cook hairycrabs. Soaking themin wine is also popularamong Chinese for its delicious taste and stronger flavor.

Sesame snacks

As the weather gets increasingly colder,snacks like sesame crispy cakes, sesame andmungbeancakes and pancakes are especially popular in this season.

Sesame, as areinforcing food in cold weather, benefits thekidney and liver, improves digestive system, soothes nerves and delays aging.

The black sesame keeps hair black and nourishes the skin.

Double Ninth Festival

Climbing, drinking chrysanthemum teaand wearingzhuyu(cornel) are also common practices duringhanluas itoften coincides with the Double Ninth Festival which falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar. This year,however,the festival is delayed until October 28.

There is a story behind this tradition. Legends have it that abrave man namedHuanJinglived in East Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). People living aroundRuheRiver were often targeted by a plague monster living in the river. Many people died includingHuan’sparents.

The young Huang left home determined to learn skills that could kill the monster. He traveled around the country and was guided by a crane to reach a mountain, which was home to an immortal.

AfterHuanmastered the skills, the immortal gave him a magic sword.

“It will be the ninth day of the ninth month tomorrow, when the plague monster reappears. You are now ready to rid the evil and save the people,” the immortal told him and gave him a pack ofzhuyuleaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine.

Back in his village,Huanled the people to the top of a nearby mountain on the morning of the ninth day. He gave each of them a piece ofcornelleaf to prevent the monster from coming closer and asked them to drink some chrysanthemum wine to avoid being infected by the plague.

Huankilled the monster at the foot of the mountainwith his magic sword.

Since then, people climb mountains or anything high as a ritual during the festival. Many people have also kept alive the tradition of drinking chrysanthemum tea, with a few traditionalists insisting on having homemade chrysanthemum wine. Mountain-climbing races are a popular activity on the day, also calledChongyangFestival,with winners garlanded withzhuyu.

Others prefer to eat cakes since the pronunciation of cake in Chinese,gao, is similar to “high.” AdelicateChongyangcake is tower-like with nine layers, with two edible sheep (pronouncing yang in Chinese) on the top to fit the festival name.

Mini colorful flags are inserted on theChongyangcake, symbolizingzhuyu.