New Recipes: Exceptional Yeast Cakes

I enjoy going back to my old alma mater for a number of reasons.  I went up in October to interview some undergrads for work, and also to celebrate homecoming, but I had enough time to sneak into the library and snag some books.

I was hoping to find some of the source texts that I couldn't find online, and I did, but what I found just looking around the library at random near the books I had identified turned out to be extremely valuable as well:


That book is "The Annotated Qimin Yaoshu," and I bought a copy from to have for myself.  Sort of like how you might have read annotated editions of Shakespeare in high school, it has a ton of footnotes explaining character issues, typos, and more importantly, interpreting and explaining hard to understand passages: 手熟揉為佳 does not mean, "roll the cooked grain using your feet and hands until done," it means "roll more grain into the cakes using your hands until they are done."

While this book is in modern Chinese, not English, it's pretty readable.  With it, I've been able to make progress on the passages that tripped me up earlier, so I'm re-doing my old translations and going straight through the chapter, rather than jumping around like I have been.  I'm not going to update the old posts, but I will link to the revised translations from them.

Overall, my interpretations have been pretty good (which is good because eventually I'll finish this book and move to books without guides to them), but there were a few spots where I was off in ways that mattered - reading "twenty seven" days instead of "the second seven days," or thinking that it was the urn's cap you bored a hole in, not the cakes for example.

A lot of the trouble in these cases comes from Classical Chinese's ability to omit subjects, objects and plurals entirely, so the boring a hole case is a sentence that just says "bore hole (穿孔)."

I've also reformatted the translations to hopefully make them more readable.

This is the first yeast cake recipe in the book.  The yeast cakes are what you use to start your fermentation, and Jia Sixie divides them into "exceptional" (神) and "common" (笨).  I had previously translated "common" as "lumpy."  The exceptional yeast cakes have more fermentative power, so you can use less of them for the same amount of grain.

One last note:  This recipe calls for mai, which is either wheat (lesser mai), or barley (greater mai).  The annotated edition thinks that it's specifically wheat, but does not offer a justification.  It's interesting that the starters mostly use wheat or barley, but the wines use rice or millet.

造神麴餅酒第六十四 Chapter 64: Making Wine using Exceptional Yeast Cakes

〈安麴在卷九藏瓜卷中 〉 Settled yeast cakes are in scroll nine, in the middle of the scroll on storing gourds.

凡作三斛麥麴法:To make three hu of wheat yeast cakes:

Steam, stir-fry, and leave fresh one hu of wheat each.  For the stir-fried grain: yellow it, let none burn.  For the fresh grain: pick over it and select the best.  Grind each third in their own mortar.  Grind them, striving for fineness.  After grinding, bring them all together.
On the thirteenth day of the seventh month (August 15, 2016), have a servant boy wearing dark clothes, before the sun rises, face west, and draw 20 hu of water.  Do not let anyone spill the water.  If there is excess water, you may drain it away, but do not allow anyone to use it.
As for when you join the water with the yeast cakes, face west and only add a little water (“make it ‘decidedly strong’”).  As for the people who will roll the yeast cakes, they should all be serving boys or children, and should each face west, and don’t allow the dirty or ill to take part.  Do not allow anyone who’s not involved to be nearby.
團麴,當日使訖,不得隔宿。屋用草屋,勿使瓦屋。 地須淨掃,不得穢惡;勿令濕。畫地為阡陌,周成四巷。作「麴人」,各置巷中,假置「麴王」,王者五人。 麴餅隨阡陌比肩相布。
As for rolling the yeast cakes, finish them the same day, don’t do half one day and half the next.  The roof should be thatched, not tiled. The floor should be cleanly swept, and not filthy and horrid; neither should it be damp.  Mark out the ground in a north-south and east-west cross, leaving four alleys around the outside.  Make yeast cake people [statues out of the wheat paste] and place each of them in the middle of the alleys.  Make five of them yeast cake kings. Spread the yeast cakes out shoulder-to-shoulder between the north-south and east-west crossing paths.
When they have all been spread, make one person from the master’s family the master of ceremonies - do not allow a slave or a servant to be the MC.  Give alcohol and dried fruit/meat to the “yeast cake king” thusly: wet the “yeast cake king”, make a bowl out of its hands, and into the bowl ladle alcohol, dried fruit, and cooked noodles.  The MC reads scripture [scripture given in the source, but omitted here] three times, and each time bows.
Be sure to board over the door, and tightly seal it with mud, not allowing wind to enter.  At dawn on the seventh day, at the appropriate time flip them over, and once again seal the door.  After another seven days, gather the cakes, again mud the door, allowing no wind to enter.  After another seven days, bring them out, pack them into a weng, and seal the head [with clay].  After another seven days, bore a small hole in each cake, thread a rope through them, air the whole string in the sun, really make sure it’s dry, and then place the cakes inside.  As for the yeast cake cakes, round them in the hand to be two thumb-joints and a half long, and nine-tenths of a thumb joint thick.
I'm going to try to make these once Christmas is over and I'm not traveling.  I've got a bag of soft wheat berries ready to go, although now I'm wondering if hard winter wheat would have been a better choice.  Research for another day!

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