Chapter 346 - Free Labor

She first soaked the dried razor clams in some water and then rinsed them with some boiling water. After all of the grit and sand was washed out, they were finely minced. Then she instructed one of the imperial chefs take some fresh shrimp, peel and clean them before cutting them into small pieces to use.

After the rice was washed, it was put into a large deep pot to simmer into congee. The minced dried razor clams, shrimp, and some ham was also put into the pot to stew slowly. Since the little divine stone had healed the little prince in the afternoon, she knew that his stomach would be able to digest more, so she was able to put more delicious ingredients in the food. After the congee finished cooking, she sprinkled some crushed roasted peanuts on top to add an additional layer of flavor. A little bit of sesame oil was also drizzled on for the same purpose.

Throughout the entire process, Yu Xiaocao didn’t try to hide any of the steps from the imperial chefs. When they had questions, she even patiently explained her reasoning. Thus, the impression the imperial chefs had of this little girl, who knew how to make many odd things, had improved a lot. Other than the noble masters in the palace, these old imperial chefs didn’t really put anyone else in their eyes. However, they now treated Yu Xiaocao with a lot more respect and reverence.

That night, the three great personages of the palace ate to their delight. It was said that the empress was very fond of the braised pig trotters, while the emperor liked braised pork knuckle and also enjoyed braised pig head meat. However, the emperor emeritus hogged most of the braised pig head meat and only gave the emperor a miserly tiny portion. The emperor emeritus ate more than half a large plate of braised pig head meat by himself and almost finished all of the sliced pig ears seasoned with chili oil. He couldn’t bear to give the leftovers to the eunuchs and palace maids, so he had the servants carefully pack the food up and had it stored in an ice cellar. He stated that he planned on eating the rest at his next meal. 

The young prince was also very pleased. He ate two small bowls of seafood congee and still wasn’t satisfied, so he also ate a goblet of razor clams stewed with egg. He was so stuffed afterwards that he had to stroll around his rooms several times with a palace maid to help with digestion. Only then was he allowed to go to bed. All of the imperial physicians were amazed at the speed of the little prince’s recovery. Usually, a patient would need at least a few days to recover from even the mildest bout of dysentery. However, only two days had passed yet the prince had made almost a full recovery and no longer needed to take medication. Was it because the Yu Family’s little girl’s recipe for medication was really that good? Even Imperial Physician Wang, who had some resentments towards Yu Xiaocao, had to admire the efficacy of the girl’s medicine recipe.

During the time that Yu Xiaocao was in the palace, she had to spend some time almost every day in the imperial kitchens to make two dishes that the emperor emeritus personally ordered. The dishes she made for him included: sweet and sour crispy pork, dry-fried pork strips, pickled vegetables with fatty meat and blood sausage. The emperor emeritus ate until he was completely satisfied. He praised the food, stating that these dishes were more delicious than all of the northeastern cuisine dishes he had during his entire life. In fact, the emperor emeritus had previously traveled all throughout the country in an effort to find the taste of his hometown. Unfortunately, he was never able to satisfy his cravings before. 

There was a reason why Yu Xiaocao knew how to cook northeastern cuisine dishes. In her past life, her mother was from the northeast. Before her mother passed away, the family’s financial circumstances were considered decent, so her mother often made some authentic northeastern dishes to eat. She had helped her mother cook in the kitchen and learned the ways to make this type of cuisine. Many years had passed then and she was now finally able to recreate the foods from her memories. These dishes all held the flavors of the food her mother used to make, such a good memory…

She taught every single northeastern cuisine dish she knew to the imperial chefs. The master opened the door, but cultivation progress depended on the individual person. It was up to the chefs to rely on their own talents to see if they were able to make these dishes up to par with the emperor emeritus’s tastes. 

The young prince had his common purslane rock candy as treatment. In addition, Yu Xiaocao created menus of food for him, so gradually his body recovered. In the imperial kitchen, Yu Xiaocao came up with some new snacks, such as animal crackers, cakes filled with jam, sheep’s milk pudding, and egg tarts. The food she made changed almost every day and never repeated itself.  

Once the young prince was able to get out of bed, he followed Yu Xiaocao like a little tail every day. When he saw her, he was even more happy to see her than when he saw his father or mother. The empress felt some pangs of jealousy while the emperor laughingly scolded him for being a foodie and an ungrateful brat...

After her sixth day in the palace, the imperial physicians announced that the young prince’s illness had completely healed. Thus, Yu Xiaocao also took her leave and left with a bunch of valuable presents given to her by the emperor and empress. The young imperial prince reluctantly said farewell to her at the steps of Jingyang Palace and waved his little hands, looking forward to her next visit.

Prior to entering the Imperial Palace, Yu Xiaocao had been preoccupied with the conundrum on what to do with the Yu Family’s residence in the prefectural city. It had a very good location, so leaving it empty was such a waste. Now, she finally came to a decision. She decided to open a braised food shop in the prefectural city. It would be a regular shop and would have a place to also sell roasted chicken and duck as well.

However, the thing giving her the most trouble at the moment was where to get the raw ingredients. The locust plague had just happened. Although the prefectural city’s area wasn’t particularly hard-hit by the disaster, there were still significant losses. Almost all of the farmlands had sharp decreases in their crop outputs. Without grain on hand, the families that raised pigs and chickens had all slaughtered their animals prior to the start of winter.

Although the weather had been good at the start of spring and the grass had started growing, how could families that raised poultry rely only on grass to feed their livestock? Spring was a time when people still relied on their stores of food, and many commoners were having trouble filling their stomachs let alone have any extra grain to raise chickens. Thus, she had a problem. If she wanted to open her braised food shop, she needed to start raising chickens and pigs now. However, her family had over a hundred mu of fields to tend and their vegetable stand to manage. If they started to raise a lot of chickens and pigs, she was afraid there wouldn’t be enough people at home to do the work…

After thinking things through, she finally came to a decision. She was going to write a letter to her father, who had gone back home after escorting her to the capital, to tell him to buy some land near the foot of the mountain from the village chief so they could construct a piggery. Enclosed with the letter was also a blueprint she drew for the piggery.

Spring plowing had just ended so her three maternal uncles weren’t very busy. Thus, she planned on having them go to the villages that weren’t as hard hit by the disaster to buy and catch as many piglets as they could. Afterwards, they could spread the piglets among families they were close to raise. The Yu Family would provide the food to raise these pigs. Once construction on the piggery was finished, they didn’t need to worry about getting more piglets in the future.

As for who would take charge of raising the pigs, she had also thought this through. Currently, the business at the docks was slow, so she was planning on having Xiaolian bring Eldest Maternal Aunt and her youngest daughter over to help with managing the piggery. As for compensation, if Eldest Maternal Aunt didn’t want to get paid on account of familial relations, then she planned on giving her two large fat pigs at the end of the season. Right now there was a shortage of grain, so there weren’t many people raising pigs. Thus, pork prices would only continue to rise and not fall, at least until the next year. Two large fat pigs could be sold for at least a few dozen taels each!

A thick envelope was soon delivered into Yu Hai’s hands in Dongshan Village. The Yu Family always completely supported his daughter’s plans. Before long, the piggery was quickly built up. Yu Hai took some strong fellows from the village and together they worked to build a tall stone wall around the piggery. The stalls of the piggery were simple. They were constructed with lower stone walls and on top was a wooden roof to shield the stalls from rain and snow. There were a total of forty-some small stalls constructed in the end. At the perimeter wall, they also constructed a simple two room dwelling for the people looking after the pigs that was built completely of stone. Inside was also a kang bed and everything was constructed very sturdily.

Yu Xiaocao longed to go back home but she still couldn’t leave the capital because her younger brother’s first birthday celebration was around the corner. Her godfather and godmother both treated her like their true daughter. When she was in the Imperial Palace for those few days, her godmother was so worried that she didn’t sleep well and ended up with canker sores in her mouth. She also became markedly thinner. Yu Xiaocao had previously missed Little Linlin’s hundred day celebration. If she missed his first birthday as well, it wouldn’t be good.

Before long, it was the day of Fang Haolin’s birthday celebration. Because Fang Zizhen had been well regarded by the emperor this year, other than his close friends and family, there were a lot of other colleagues who came by to participate without an invitation.

Zhu Junyang had come over early in the morning and he was currently in the kitchen being used as hard labor by Yu Xiaocao. He, Head Steward Liu, and two bodyguards were all assigned a large basin of cream for them to beat!

That’s right, Yu Xiaocao was planning on giving an enormous three-layer cake to Little Linlin as his birthday present. How could she make a birthday cake without whipped cream frosting? If she was able to buy whipped cream frosting in the Great Ming Dynasty, that would have been the best. However, since none was available to buy, she could make it herself ah!

When she was in the imperial kitchen, Yu Xiaocao discovered they had cow’s milk there. It was rumored that the emperor had brought over dairy cows from foreign countries to the country when he hadn’t taken the throne yet. These cows were all raised in the capital’s farmstead and provided the imperial kitchen with different types of dairy products. 

Yu Xiaocao had asked the empress to give her a lot of cow’s milk from the imperial kitchen. Making whipped cream required a lot of milk. Furthermore, she also needed eggs, vegetable oil and white sugar. Other than the milk, the rest was easy to obtain.  

In order to make whipped cream frosting, the person making it needed to whip it constantly at a high speed. Yu Xiaocao originally planned on asking her godfather for a few bodyguards to help her. However, who would have thought that Zhu Junyang would voluntarily come to the door and act as free labor. It’d be a waste not to use him.

Yu Xiaocao took out a few large and sturdy basins and first placed some egg whites in them. She had Zhu Junyang and the others continuously whip the egg whites in one direction. The four of them all were skilled martial artists who had beaten many experts in the capitals. They all stone-facedly used the bamboo tools in their hands to whip the egg whites.

Once the egg whites were foamy, Yu Xiaocao told them all to stop. She added a bit of milk, oil, and sugar and then had them continue. Zhu Junyang leveled an angry glare at her. If he wasn’t looking forward to trying her new food creation, he would have long thrown a tantrum and stopped working. Anyone who was willing to give him orders willy nilly truly had guts! Zhu Junyang vented all of his pent up anger into whipping the egg white mixture.

When Yu Xiaocao saw him working ‘so hard’, she heavily praised him and instructed the other people to follow his lead in order to work hard to reap rewards. Head Steward Liu had a face full of suffering as he thought, ‘My little ancestor ah, please stop adding fuel to the fire. Can’t you see that his royal highness has an expression so dark it’s dripping ink ah? When the master loses his temper, it’s more scary than natural disasters and fierce beasts ah!’

When Yu Xiaocao saw that the mixture in Zhu Junyang’s basin had thickened, she quickly told them all to stop. She then added an appropriate portion of milk to each of their basins, as well as more oil and sugar. Then, she happily gave them a few compliments before hinting that they had to continue.

While the four people were crafting the whipped cream frosting, Yu Xiaocao had mixed up the cake batter and poured it into three separate pans. The pans were placed into the oven and she had Yingtao keep an eye at the heat. She continued to instruct Zhu Junyang and the others how to make the frosting.

After adding more milk, oil and sugar another two times, Yu Xiaocao saw that the frosting was at the right viscosity. She took the bamboo beater from Zhu Junyang’s hands and gently tested the texture of the frosting. When she saw that the frosting didn’t deflate, she proclaimed that they were done making it.

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Myst's Thoughts

food pic1 and pic2

Sanguine’s thoughts: I enjoy baking and I have never seen a recipe like this for whipped cream frosting. I suspect she’s using egg whites to stabilize the whipped cream to make a more sturdy frosting but most of the other frostings I’ve seen using eggs in them are more of the buttercream variant. Also, adding oil to the egg whites before they’ve volumized properly makes it harder to whip up! These are just some thoughts that go through my head when I translate haha!

Translator: Sanguine