Chapter 209 - Starch Jelly

By the time the rest of them arrived, the twin sisters and Zhuang Xiaomo, who was free labor, had already picked up a large pile of red marine algae.

Fang Zizhen and Yu Hang always followed Xiaocao’s commands without any hesitation. The two of them placed the gathered seaweed into their baskets and hauled it back home. They then ran back to help the children gather more algae. Yu Xiaocao was so excited from picking up seaweed that she had even forgotten to eat lunch.

Today’s harvest was quite good! Satisfaction bloomed within Xiaocao’s heart as she looked at the bamboo baskets bursting full of seaweed that were neatly lined up in the courtyard. If only red marine algae could be harvested on a regular basis, then she would really make bank!

Fang Zizhen was busy shoving the delicious and satisfying red marine algae salad into his mouth. He looked at the baskets full of seaweed and asked, “Daughter, this red marine algae tastes quite good but I don’t think we can use all that’s been gathered ah! Even if we ate it every day for every meal for the next couple of months, we still wouldn’t be able to finish all that is here!” 

Xiaocao had already entered the kitchen to stoke the fire. She peeked her tiny head out of the room and smiled mysteriously at Fang Zizhen, “Godfather, save some room in your tummy. In a bit, there will be something delicious coming out!”

Fang Zizhen rubbed at his belly and grinned, “Godfather’s stomach can stretch and shrink as needed. Even when it’s full, I can still eat a couple more bowls. Don’t worry, I will be able to taste your new food.”

In fact, the process for making starch jelly was quite simple. The important part was to have a good control of the stove’s heat to allow the ingredients to simmer slowly for at least four hours. Following that, once the red marine algae completely melted into a liquid, all you needed to do was to filter any residue out and let it solidify into translucent starch jelly. Starch jelly made from algae was more clear and felt more cool than jelly made from sweet potato starch or mung bean starch. It was very similar to agar jelly. After the marine starch jelly was made, Xiaocao was planning on dressing it with garlic paste, hot chili oil, minced pickled mustard, sesame oil and some other spices. The resulting combination would definitely stoke a person’s appetite.

Yu Xiaocao was not only going to try to make marine starch jelly, but she was also going to try to make a batch of sweet potato starch jelly and mung bean starch jelly while the seaweed was simmering on the stove.

Using mung bean starch was a bit inconvenient. First of all, the mung beans had to be soaked in water until they swelled. After soaking, they needed to be ground into a thick mung bean slurry and filtered to allow the starch to settle out. Although these steps seem easy, putting them into practice was another matter. Filtering the slurry had to be done a dozen times before you could let the starch settle. Afterwards, you also had to carefully pour out as much liquid as possible before you dried the mung bean starch under the sun. Only when the starch was completely dry could it be used.

Making mung bean starch jelly required using the correct proportion of starch to water. The water needed to be warmed up until it was tepid and then the starch could be added in until it was thick and viscous. A pot of clean water had to be boiled and then the sticky starch mixture had to be dropped in before agitating vigorously to prevent it from sticking to the pot and burning. Once the starch became cooked, the thick mixture had to be poured into molds similar to those used in tofu making. Then it had to cool undisturbed until solidified into its final shape.

Most of the work involved in making mung bean starch jelly was from the consecutive filtering steps required to produce the mung bean starch. Thus, sweet potato starch jelly was much easier to make. After all, they already had a supply of ready-made sweet potato starch, whether it was in Xiaocao’s home or the Zhou Family’s vermicelli factory. With sweet potato starch on hand, the rest of steps to make starch jelly was pretty much the same as the ones used to make mung bean starch jelly.

Sweet potato starch jelly had a slight red color while being translucent, resembling sparkling and icy red jadeite. Mung bean starch jelly, on the other hand, had a bright white color and was as soft as gelatin. No matter what type of starch jelly it was, they were all tender and tasty and were very effective in cooling down someone and quenching thirst.  

With Xiaocao’s secret dressing on top of the sparkling and translucent starch jelly, someone eating a bowl of it in the heat of summer would feel incredibly refreshed. The taste was so addictive that people wanted to eat some continuously. That evening, everyone in the Yu Family ate a bowl of the tender starch jelly. With the slightly moist sea breeze billowing around them, they felt quite satisfied and pleased.

Xiaolian refilled her bowl again and poured the seasoning on top while smiling, “Little Sister, this starch jelly is really very suitable to eat during summer! Tomorrow, let’s bring some to the docks to sell. I’m sure it’ll be very popular!”

Fang Zizhen didn’t end up eating dinner as his belly was so stuffed that it bulged. He commented, “Daughter, what’s in that little head of yours ah? Just where do all of these odd ideas of yours come from? I never would have expected that sweet potato starch and seaweed picked up from the beach could be used to make something so delicious! Haha, I must have done many good deeds in my past life in order to have such a good goddaughter like you! You really make me proud...Wife, tomorrow, when you go into town, bring some over to Princess Consort Jing and her second son. They should also get to try our daughter’s food!”

Fang Zizhen had always been a rough person. Under the influence of the atmosphere in Dongshan Village, he no longer used genteel forms of address to speak to Lady Fang. Instead, he used the exact same terms that Yu Hai and the other villagers used, such as ‘wife’! However, after getting used to it, it sounded quite amiable and intimate.

Starch jelly was quite delicious, so Lady Fang ended up eating two large bowls despite her attempts to restrain herself. She reluctantly set down the ladle and lightly laughed, “You ah! Aren’t you just trying to show off that you have a good daughter in front of Princess Consort Jing? I know your ways.”

Fang Zizhen chuckled and didn’t even bother to hide his true goal. What was the point in trying to hide the fact that he had a talented and capable daughter? He wanted everyone to know that he, Fang Zizhen, had a clever daughter who was godly at cooking!

Xiaocao smiled brilliantly at her godfather and then continued to discuss the business of selling starch jelly with Xiaolian.

Since they were planning on selling starch jelly, they also needed to prepare bowls and spoons for the customers. Naturally, they also needed to get a couple tables and stools as they couldn’t let their customers squat on the ground to eat the food! Thus, they also needed to get a tent. It was the height of summer now and there wasn’t any shade at the docks. Who would ever want to eat food under the blazing sun?!

Yu Hai, who was quietly listening to his daughters’ discussion, decided to interject at this time, “Tomorrow, I’ll bring the materials over and I’ll craft a grass shack. As for the chopsticks, bowls, and spoons, there are shops at the docks that sell those. It’s only the tables and stools that might be difficult to get on short notice!”

Xiaolian suddenly thought of something and clapped her hands, “That’s right! Grandpa Liu mentioned that his son had made a bunch of money from doing business and was planning on having him move in so he could provide for his old father! They need to sell their noodles stand to someone. If we take it over, wouldn’t that solve our tables and stools problem?”

Xiaocao thought for a bit and then nodded, “Okay! Other than starch jelly, we can also sell cold noodles. I know a couple methods to make cold noodles, and they should taste pretty good. Tomorrow, Father can first build the awning. Grandpa Liu’s grass shack doesn’t let in the wind, which is fine in the winter, but in the summer, it gets a bit stuffy.”

“Okay! The sun is still up right now so I’ll go chop down some bamboo.” Yu Hai was the type of person to do what he said, so he promptly stood up.

Yu Hang followed him from behind and said, “I’ll go cut some long grass!”

With another way to make money, Yu Xiaolian became much more exhilarated and exclaimed in excitement, “Tomorrow, let’s take everything we need to the docks and shoot for an opening before noon!! That’s right! Tomorrow, we should go to the docks earlier. I need to buy bowls, chopsticks, and spoons from a store and you can start making the starch jelly! Since this business is a collaboration between us two, let’s split the money fifty-fifty. Is that okay?”

Naturally, Xiaocao wouldn’t refuse the proposition. However, it was likely that she and Xiaolian wouldn’t be able to handle making both the starch jelly and cold noodles. It might not be a bad idea to bring in their Eldest Maternal Aunt into the mix. Ever since the melon store closed, their eldest maternal aunt wasn’t able to find a suitable job, so she would only occasionally go to the docks and sell some food.

However, now her family had a bit more breathing room. When she was helping with the melon store for over a month, she found out she had more work than she could handle, so she also brought her oldest daughter over. Once it ended, Xiaocao simply stuffed fifty taels into her hand to show her gratitude in helping with such a tough job.

A healthy man in his prime doing hard labor in town wouldn’t be able to earn one tael for a month’s work. Madam Han felt that she didn’t have a difficult job working in the melon shop. All she had to do was move the melons to the shelves and man the cash box. When Xiaocao gave her fifty taels for her work, she was scared and astonished. How could she possibly take that much money?

That being said, Xiaocao’s Eldest Maternal Uncle also made a lot of money from selling watermelons in the prefectural city. All of this was a result of Xiaocao’s kindness and benevolence. As her family’s circumstances became better, she never forgot to help them either. Liu Pei and his brother had gone back and forth to the prefectural city at least ten times in the past month.

The first time they went to the prefectural city, they almost had an evil tyrant bully them out of their goods. Luckily, Fang Zizhen had quickly arrived to save them and caught the bully and his minions. The criminals were given to the authorities and Fang Zizhen also brought the two brothers to meet the prefectural magistrate. News traveled quickly, whether intentionally or not, among the wealthy and powerful families of the prefectural city. All of them soon knew that the Liu Brothers, who sold watermelons, were under the protection of the imperial envoy, General Fang. Naturally, from then on, no one tried to bully the two brothers with their wealth or status.

There were a lot more people with money in the prefectural city! As soon as a wagon full of watermelons arrived at the gates of the prefectural city, all of the melons were quickly sold out to the servants of these wealthy families. Even though the watermelons cost two times more than the ones sold in Tanggu Town, their sales never slowed down. 

Within a month, the two brothers earned seven to eight hundred taels each. Prior to this, the Liu Family often didn’t even have seven to eight taels to take out, let alone seven to eight hundred taels. Now that they had a ‘monstrous sum’ of money on their hands, neither of them really knew what to do with it.

Later on, Xiaocao gave them some financial advice. The two brothers then decided to use their money to invest in the shops that were going to be built at the new harbor. Currently, more and more people were traveling through the presently crude docks. Once construction was finished on the new harbor, then real estate prices would definitely skyrocket!

With Xiaocao’s godfather around, they also didn’t need to fret about whether they’d be able to buy the shops in good locations. Originally, Xiaocao wanted to ask Third Young Master Zhou for help in buying the stores but she suddenly remembered she could give this task to her godfather. Her thought process was simple, ‘With my current income, buying ten shops wouldn’t be a problem now!’

Anyway, back to the topic! Thus, Xiaocao combined her money with the rest of her family’s and the next day Yu Hai took his two daughters along with two carts to the docks! Fang Zizhen rode his horse leisurely behind them. Yu Hai sat on the cart’s handle as he drove the horse cart that was piled high with the construction materials needed to build a shack. Xiaocao and her sister were on the donkey cart, which was piled up with pots, bowls, ladles, and basins. Baskets full of seaweed were also balanced on the cart.  

That’s right, they were planning on making marine starch jelly first. After all, they didn’t have to spend any money on the raw ingredients. When they finished their supply of seaweed, they could consider making sweet potato starch jelly then. Mung bean starch jelly was deemed too difficult to produce on a mass scale and it was also the most expensive method too. Thus, the two sisters decided not to use mung beans!

Before they headed out this morning, Xiaocao especially visited the Zhou Family to have Zhou Shanhu help them pass the word along to the village children that the Yu Family was buying red marine algae in bulk for the long term. They set the price of one copper coin per catty of seaweed and there was no limit on how much you could sell to them. Yesterday they were able to gather a dozen or so baskets full of seaweed from that one place, so it was likely other stretches of beach also had more.

In this season, the village children usually had nothing to do. If they worked hard at gathering seaweed, even a half-grown child could gather more than a dozen catties of seaweed in a day. Nowadays, the people in Dongshan Village were no longer as poor as church mice, needing to scrimp and save every copper. Thus, the adults were now able to allow their kids to have a stash of a dozen or so copper coins for pocket money. Naturally, the village children were even more enthused at the prospect of gathering seaweed for more personal money!

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Myst's Thoughts

Food pic

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Honestly I’m happy the rest of the village is benefiting from Xiaocao’s ideas. Naturally her own family is becoming the wealthiest in the area but at least other people around her also have the opportunity to have a better life.

Translator: Sanguine