A festive and heartwarming scene depicting a family in Henan Province, China, during the Winter Solstice or Dongzhi Festival. The setting is a cozy, traditional Chinese kitchen with family members of different generations gathered around a table. They are engaged in making and boiling dumplings, with a large pot on the stove and ingredients scattered around. Lanterns and winter decorations adorn the room, enhancing the celebratory atmosphere. The scene captures the warmth of family unity, the joy of cooking together, and the cultural significance of eating dumplings to ward off the cold. The family members are smiling and interacting with each other, embodying the spirit of the festival. Size: 1792x1024.

By Larry Billinger

Embracing the Winter Solstice

Have you eaten Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) today? Did you know if you don’t, legend says your ears might fall off? In Henan Province, China, as the Winter Solstice brings the shortest day, there’s more than just the cold to ward off. It’s a time of joyous homecoming, lit by family lanterns and the aroma of simmering dumplings. This culinary tradition carries a whimsical tale: neglect to eat these warm dumplings, and you risk your ears freezing off in the cold! This playful myth, often shared with laughter among students and families, infuses the act of eating dumplings with a sense of charm and urgency, turning a simple meal into a delightful defense against winter. Continue reading to uncover the roots of this intriguing tradition.

A Tale of Warmth and Healing

Legend whispers of the “Ear Doctor,” a wise physician named Zhang Zhongjing who, centuries ago, witnessed the suffering of farmers during a harsh winter. Their ears, exposed to the biting wind, turned numb and painful. Ingeniously, the doctor crafted “Jiao Er” – “horned ears” – filled with warming herbs and mutton, which restored both health and warmth to the afflicted. Though winters no longer necessitate such drastic measures, the tradition of dumplings has endured, evolving into a symbol of family, prosperity, and good fortune.

A Personal Winter Solstice Memory

My most unforgettable Winter Solstice in China involved a dumpling party, a lively flour fight, and the beginning of a beautiful journey with my now-wife, Jessica. As we taught our students, the excitement of the festival turned into a playful flour fight, leaving us all in cheerful disarray. This moment became even more memorable when a surprise flour attack resulted in stinging eyes and a humorous, unforgettable photograph. I remember the burning of the flower in my eyes, which resulted in tears and produced flour and more burning. Crazy times!

Celebrating Near and Far

For those not fortunate enough to be in Henan this Winter Solstice, fear not! The spirit of the celebration can still be yours. Head to your local grocery store and seek out the plump, frozen pockets of joy bearing the Ling Ling brand. I have tried several types of Wei-Chuan and they were terrible. If those elusive treats remain hidden, fret not! Even Korean mandu, with their thinner skins and lighter broths, can be a delightful substitute.

Perfect Dumplings: The Detailed Boiling Method

To truly appreciate the authentic taste of dumplings during the Dongzhi Festival, it’s important to note that the traditional Chinese cooking method may differ from the instructions found on packaged dumplings or from methods commonly used elsewhere. In China, a unique ‘double boil’ method is often employed to achieve the perfect texture and flavor. Here’s how you can replicate this authentic technique:

  1. Bring Water to a Boil: Start by filling a large pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Add the Dumplings: Gently place the dumplings into the boiling water. Use a spoon to carefully nudge them, ensuring they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  3. First Addition of Cold Water: As soon as the water returns to a boil, carefully add about 120 ml (approximately half a cup) of cold water. Then, cover the pot.
  4. Repeat the Process: Wait for the water to come to a boil again and repeat the process of adding cold water. Do this a total of three times.
  5. Check for Doneness: The dumplings are ready when they are plump and float to the surface of the water.
  6. Drain and Rinse: Carefully transfer the cooked dumplings to a colander. Rinse them briefly under drinkable tap water to stop the cooking process.
  7. Serve Hot: Serve the dumplings immediately while they are hot and enjoy the flavorful experience.

The Essence of Winter Solstice

As the sun sets on the shortest day of the year, gather your loved ones, light a few candles, and fill your kitchen with the aroma of simmering dumplings. Let the rhythmic thump of rolling pins and the joyful chatter of loved ones be your soundtrack. Remember, dear reader, that sometimes, the most potent magic lies not in ancient tales of ear-restoring dumplings but in the warmth of connection forged over a shared meal. So, join the dumpling delight this Winter Solstice and savor the taste of tradition, family, and the promise of brighter days to come. I have my dumplings purchased and ready for dinner tomorrow night. Do you?

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