Next Tuesday we will enter the solar term of Small Full Grain, also called Grain Buds. It is the 8th solar term of the year and ends on June 6. It means that the seeds from the grain are becoming full but are not ripe.
In China, the 24 solar terms were created thousands of years ago to guide agricultural production. But the solar term culture is still useful today to guide people’s lives through special foods, cultural ceremonies, gardening and even healthy living tips that correspond with each solar term.
During Small Full Grain, the summer harvest is about to begin. A saying about rain during this time mentions, “A heavy rainfall makes the river full.” Because of the great increase in rainfall, rivers are full of water, which makes fish and shrimp big and fat. This is a good time to eat fish and shrimp. It is also harvest season for fishermen. But in the area of Beijing, it’s the driest solar term in the year and it’s important to keep the crops away from the dry hot wind. In Chinese, “Grain Buds” is called “Xiao Man”, where “Man” means full. Therefore, full indicates not only the grain but also the amount of rainwater. It is said that if there is not enough water during this period, the crops will not grow when the next solar term comes.
A Chinese farmer proverb says, “Mulberries become black during Small Grain.” and another that says, “Three fresh plants come into the market: cucumber, cherries and garlic shoots.” Thus it is a good season to eat mulberries. cherries and these other greens. Silkworm rearing is a traditional byproduct for people in regions south of the Yangtze River. Silkworms are raised on mulberry leaves, so the fellow at left will leave the berries for the farmer. During the Grain Buds season, silkworms have stopped eating the leaves and cocooned. People get the double benefit of the ripe berries and the silk from the cocoons. People in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces regard this season as the birthday of the silkworm deity. Those who engage in the silk industry thank the deity by offering sacrifices and staging performances. They pray to the deity for blessings and a boom season for the silk business.
To keep emerging moths from damaging the silk, the cocoons are boiled while the spinning wheels are prepared for reeling silk. While it is sad the pupae die in the boiling, they are not wasted. They are eaten and are a nutritious snack. I have eaten them boiled and seasoned as beondegi (번데기) in Korea but I like them better roasted as Chinese and Thai people cook them. If the idea of eating bugs puts you off I can only say there are millions of people who eat and enjoy them and all my cats like to snack on bugs too.
Also in China it is the season for eating the herb of the common sow thistle, which is one of the earliest edible potherbs in China. Leaves are eaten as salad greens or cooked like spinach. This is one of the species used in Chinese cuisine as kŭcài (苦菜; lit. bitter vegetable). It tastes a little bitter and tart, but also sweet. Blanching or boiling removes bitter flavor. This herb functions to cool the blood and detoxify the body and can be made into different types of dishes. People in Ningxia like to eat it blended with salt, vinegar, peppers or garlic. It tastes savory and helps people feel refreshed. Some people boil the herb with water and then squeeze out the juice, which can be used to make soup.