Chuseok, Songpyeon and Pretty Daughters

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A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Maria is working on a career in optometry. She was a tester of recipes for our upcoming cookbook. Grace and I are thrilled that she agreed to share her experiences here with us – Diane

During my summer back in Berkeley, I came across a job posting on Craigslist for a recipe tester position. It was the first time I heard of such a position and immediately became excited at the opportunity of combining my love for cooking and my love for science. While testing recipes for Diane and Grace, it brought me back to my organic chemistry lab days when I had to accurately measure and follow directions in hopes that my experiment turned out well.

A few days ago, I was instructed to test a recipe for making songpyeon (half-moon rice cakes). As usual, I started out by glancing over the recipe before taking a moment to read the history that provides me with some background and allows me to better understand the dish. Reading this portion is something I truly enjoy because it allows me to learn about Korean culture and cuisine. But a sentence caught my attention and made me pause and re-read it. It stated that the person that makes pretty songpyeon will have a pretty daughter. I found this idea captivating and a special touch to the history section of the recipe.

Maria’s first attempt at making songpyeon

However, when I began testing this recipe, this statement started to feel threatening to me. I felt the pressure of making this recipe work because like all women, I want to give rise to pretty daughters. At first, I played around with this idea, jokingly telling Diane that I did not want an ugly daughter, but proceeding with extra caution. Unfortunately, and without a doubt, I failed. Too many things went wrong, and I ran into trouble at almost every step. By the time I needed to shape the rice cakes, I had become frustrated so I decided to form the rice cakes as if I were making Mexican empanadas, something with which I was familiar. This approach did not help either and I lost hope, but carried on. My final product was deformed, oily, mushy, and definitely not pretty.

Yesterday was Chuseok, a day where Koreans celebrate the fall and harvest season with food and drink. Songpyeon is one of the major foods prepared for Chuseok. I want to wish you a Happy Chuseok and the best of luck in making beautiful songpyeon.

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