The Impact of New World
Food Crops on the Diet and
Economy of China and
The celebration of the New Year on the lunar calendar is more important to the Chinese than the celebration of Christmas to the Western people. Many kinds of special foods are prepared in advance for it. From the beginning of the twelfth month all the women in the village are busy grinding wheat and other cereals to make the holiday cakes, wheat flour rolls, vegetable balls, and bean curd. A certain kind of cake is so large that it takes two adults to lift one. The cakes are made from two kinds of glutinous millet, boiled sweet potatoes, and yeast. When these ingredients have been mixed and fermented, the dough is put into a big round container and steamed in a deep boiler. When the cake is done it is about six inches thick and two and a half feet in diameter. 1
Martin Mou-ch'un Yang goes on to describe the ritual of steaming sweet‐ potato cakes in his Shandong village in the 1930s: Doors were locked to prevent inauspicious interruptions; the children were hushed and walked on tiptoes while adults lowered their voices; sticks of burning incense marked the exact time that the cake needed to be steamed, and all invoked the kitchen god to ensure the success of the steaming. A Chinese New Year's ceremonial cake made with sweet potatoes from the Americas seemingly from time immemorial. How and when did this come to be?