Sun, May 06, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Preschool students reinvent red turtle cakes

TWIST ON TRADITION:The students experimented and dyed the cakes with colors found in natural foods, such as carrots and beets, so that they would be a healthy treat

By Wang Chun-chung and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Turtle cakes made by students at Sishu Elementary School’s affiliated preschool in Tainan’s South District are displayed at the school on Thursday.

Photo: Copy by Wang Chun-chung, Taipei Times

Preschool students in Tainan’s South District have teamed up with older locals to breathe new life into a traditional Taiwanese dessert.

Students at the district’s Senior Learning Center — a government-sponsored initiative that offers a selection of programs to people over the age of 55 — on Thursday taught students at Sishu Elementary School’s affiliated preschool how to make “red turtle cakes” (紅龜粿), a traditional treat made with dyed red glutinous rice and a sweet filling.

Traditionally, red turtle cakes are used as offerings during worship or eaten at festivals, celebrations and weddings. Turtle shapes are stamped on the cakes to represent longevity, hence their name.

During the workshop, the students asked if turtle cakes have to be red and if their fillings must be made from bean paste.

The students and their parents began experimenting with different dyes and fillings.

The students learned that many foods today are unnatural and contain chemical additives, one of the preschool’s teachers said.

Wanting to eat healthily and have fun at the same time, the students tried using different ingredients to create natural food coloring, the teacher said.

They used beets to make a reddish-purple dye, butterfly pea flower to make a blue dye, spinach to make a green dye, pumpkin to make a yellow dye, carrots to make an orange dye, purple yams to make a purple dye and brown sugar to make a brown dye for their turtle cakes, the teacher said.

They also substituted the filling with chocolate, cheese, jam, strawberries, mushrooms and other ingredients, the teacher added.

The creative turtle cakes upended traditional ideas about red turtle cakes, the students’ parents said, adding that their inventions were both delicious and fun.

The red turtle cake is a symbol of festivals and celebrations in the Sishu area (喜樹), Sishu Elementary School Principal Wang Lung-hsiung (王龍雄) said, adding that although people today do not have as much of an attachment to the traditional dessert, the workshop allowed an ancient tradition to be reimagined and passed on.

The Sishu area is often referred to as the hometown of red turtle cakes, because the area produces coastal hibiscus, the leaves of which are used to prevent the cakes from sticking to steamers.

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