In the days when there was no mill, to make rice cake from harvested rice, grandmothers would put rice in a steamer with a little perilla seed oil. While steaming, a small container with beeswax was placed on top of the rice to melt. Next, the steamed glutinous rice was placed on the table, mixed with salt and boiled mugwort, and then pounded together. The whole rice cake was cut into edible sized pieces. The top of the rice cake was coated with melted beeswax, and the rice cake was then stored. When a valued guest came to visit, the rice cake was heating in an oven and served.
Milrap tteok is usually made between late autumn and winter when glutinous rice is harvested and stored. Even today, 30-40% of people in Gyeonggi, Yangpyung and Kangwon provinces in central and eastern South Korea make their own homemade rice cake and store it in a freezer to eat later. The rice cake is placed on a ceremonial table to pay respect to ancestors during memorial services held during the season that rice cake is made, or if the ancestor liked the cake when he or she was alive.
Making milrap tteok is a characteristic part of traditional agricultural society, along with planting glutinous rice, collecting wild mugwort, planting perilla seeds and beekeeping (for collecting beeswax). However, this tradition has begun to fade as the population of local people making traditional rice cake ages, rice farming is decreasing and the raising of native bees is becomes more difficult due to changes in the environment and weakening immunity of the bees.
As younger generations move to the city, commercial foods meeting the taste of younger people, such as sweet rice cakes with added sugar or bean flour, are becoming more popular. The few people who remember the taste of their grandmothers’ rice cakes still want to have milrap tteok. However, when the generation of people who can make traditional rice cakes for their children passes away, milrap tteok will be a food that only can only be found in memories. Eventually, future generations will not have any memory of these traditional rice cakes, and milrap tteok will have completely disappeared.