Chapter 353 - Preparing to Open a Shop

The memorial presented by Royal Prince Yang set off a wave of storm at court. Minister Liu’s hands trembled as he took the memorial that the emperor had just reviewed. He carefully looked over the data over and over again. The yield on superior farmland was three hundred eighty catties per mu and the average farmland had three hundred thirty catties per mu. The output of inferior farmland had also gotten a high yield of two hundred ninety catties per mu. 

Minister Liu burst into tears, “Emperor, this old official is incompetent! All of the fields in the Imperial Plantation are superior farmland, yet the yield is only around one hundred ninety catties per mu!! This Yu Family is indeed talented, Your Majesty!” 

Zhu Junfan looked at Imperial Censor Yang and asked with a spurious smile, “Imperial Censor Yang, do you have anything else to say?” 

With facts presented in front of his eyes, Imperial Censor Yang had no other reason to stop the emperor from awarding the Yu Family. He thought for a moment and said, “If what is stated in the memorial is true, then this official will acknowledge it sincerely.” 

He was speaking as if Royal Prince Yang had made a false record in order to help the Yu Family. All the civil and military officials in court inwardly shook their heads. This Imperial Censor Yang seriously didn’t have a very good moral character. At this point, he was still trying to find an honorable way to get out of this embarrassing situation. 

He should think about it. Who was the Yu Family to Royal Prince Yang? Why would the cold-hearted and black-faced royal prince be willing to risk the crime of deceiving the monarch to protect them? Furthermore, even if the Yu Family was bestowed a position, they would merely be a minor seven-rank official. They would just be small agricultural officials under the Ministry of Revenue, so how would that affect him, Imperial Censor Yang, in any way? Was it really worth it for him to cling onto them like a leech? 

The Minister of Works came out again and tried to smooth things over, “Perhaps, there’s a difference in the output due to the difference of the seeds. In my opinion, to truly have fair and just results, the same types of seeds and fields should be used…” 

Officials, who knew the situation, all looked at each other with tacit gaze—the Minister of Works’ granddaughter and Imperial Censor Yang’s grandson were currently in the middle of discussing marriage, so it was no wonder that he would speak up for him.  

At this time, the military officials presented a memorial, stating that there seemed to be trouble at the northwest borders. The surviving supporters of the Yuan Dynasty had divided into two major tribes, Dongliao and Siliao. It seemed like they were eager to cause trouble at the borders. The military officials requested for backup in the event that war broke out and so on… As for the matter regarding the Yu Family, it had been left unsettled once again. 

At the Yu Family’s farmstead on the outskirts of Tanggu Town, it was currently bustling with activity. After the soybeans were reaped, the tenant farmers were busy with fertilizing the fields and preparing for the cultivation of wheat. 

Zhu Junyang, who had a tall and graceful figure, stood at the edge of the field and said to Yu Xiaocao, who was handing out wheat to the farmers, “If you plant winter wheat now, you won’t be able to plant corn in the spring, right? I must remind you that the emperor attaches great importance to corn and plans to popularize the cultivation of corn as a high-yielding crop in the north…” 

Yu Xiaocao smiled at him and said, “I know. If we want to popularize the cultivation of corn, there definitely aren’t enough seeds. We should do it step by step! Since we’re familiar with growing corn, we’ll naturally take up the responsibility of breeding the seeds! But, this doesn’t conflict with growing winter wheat ah!” 

With a look of surprise, Zhu Junyang asked in confusion, “How does it not conflict? I have asked your tenant farmers. After planting the winter wheat, they can only be harvested at the beginning of next summer. Where would you have farmland to grow corn?” 

Yu Xiaocao lifted her eyebrows and smiled proudly, “Who told you that corn must be planted in the spring? After the winter wheat is reaped, we can plant a batch of corn to be harvested in the autumn. After harvesting the corn, we can grow winter wheat again. The timing is just right! If we don’t plant winter wheat now, the fields would be idle for at least four to five months. Isn’t that a waste of resources?” 

After thinking about it, Zhu Junyang felt that it sounded quite reasonable. Yu Xiaocao said that after the popularization of corn, it would at most be considered a type of coarse grain. By growing corn for one season and winter wheat for another season, they would have both coarse grain and fine grain, and the common people would be able to live a better life. Thus, he also handed his eight hundred mu of farmland to her and asked her to help him decide what to plant. He wrote up an imperial memorial overnight and sent it to the capital. Soon, the Imperial Plantation on the outskirts of the capital also began growing winter wheat. 

At this time, the method of cultivation for wheat had been relatively improved. Yu Xiaocao just had to let the little divine stone release some spiritual energy into the seeds, and the tenant farmers would take care of all other matters. The father and daughter pair were currently busy dealing with the villagers who came to purchase bean seeds after hearing about good things about them.   

The news that the Yu Family’s farmstead had a great harvest of soybeans, which had a high yield of four hundred catties per mu, had quietly spread throughout Tanggu Town. After being spread through the word of mouth, people began saying that the soybean seeds that the Yu Family used were a high-yielding crop that Royal Prince Yang brought back from the western hemisphere.   

At this time, there had been a gradual improvement of the extraction method for soybean oil. Bean curd, bean sprout, and some other bean-related products had slowly started appearing on the tables of the common people. The soybean cakes left over after being used to extract soybean oil and bean flour milled by beans were all food that the poverty-stricken commoners relied on for survival. The doubling of the output of beans could help improve the lives of many people, so it attracted quite a lot of people. 

The soybeans harvested from Royal Prince Yang’s fields had to be transported back to the capital. As for the soybeans produced at the Yu Family’s plantation, with the exception of the portion saved to be used as seeds for next year, Yu Hai and his daughter decided to sell them at a state-set price. Why were they selling them at a state-set price? The Yu Family was able to earn a good reputation in several nearby villages by selling the soybeans to the impoverished commoners according to the market price of fine bred grain without adding a single copper coin to the price. 

After she finished with the matters at the plantation, Yu Xiaocao packed her bags and set off to the prefectural city. There was less than a month until the college examination. They had several pigs at home that had already reached the weight of two hundred catties, and thus they could be taken out of their pens. In other words, they should start preparing for the opening of the braised food shop in the prefectural city! 

For this trip to the prefectural city, Yu Hai and the Liu Hu couple also came with her. It naturally wasn’t that simple to open a shop. The renovation of the shop, purchasing the ingredients, and buying the kitchen utensils were all areas that required manpower. 

There were two reasons as to why she had her oldest paternal aunt and oldest paternal uncle come along with them. First of all, they really did lack manpower for the initial preparation of the shop. Second, they were going to collaborate with the Liu Family for the braised food shop. The Yu Family would contribute the money and recipes, while the Liu Family would contribute manpower. The profit would be split 20-80; the Liu Family would receive 20% and the Yu Family would get 80% of the profit!

Yu Caifeng had seen the flourishing business of the braised pig head meat at the docks, so she had no doubts about the braising method of the Yu Family. They could earn 20% of the profit by merely providing some manpower, which meant that they were taking advantage of them. After several refusals, under Yu Hai’s persuasion, she finally accepted the kindness of her younger brother’s family.   

They came to Tanggu from the northeast without any money at all. Not only did her younger brother help cure her husband’s illness, but he also supported them financially. What’s more, just by helping her younger brother sell watermelons for the past two years, they were able to save up more than one hundred taels even after they built a house and sent Little Fangping to school. This was considered a huge sum of money to them, who had no more than five taels in their savings in the past. Now, her younger brother’s family was planning on opening a shop in the prefectural city, and they were the first people they thought of. Moreover, his family also gave them such a generous share. How could she not be grateful and moved? 

Before leaving, Yu Caifeng had gathered her whole family together and said to the children, “It’s all thanks to your uncle that we can now live a life without worrying about food and clothing. In the future, you guys need to be filial to your uncle and aunt, just like how you’re filial to me and your father.” 

In the past two years, Liu Junping, who was a half-grown child, had clearly seen and kept in mind the kindness that the Yu Family showed them. He nodded solemnly and said, “Uncle is a great benefactor of our family, and we will always remember that!” 

Yu Caifeng thought about it and said, “If the shop in the prefectural city is successful in the future, your father and I will surely bring you guys to the prefectural city at that time. If our braised food sells well, there would definitely be a lot of people trying to uncover the recipes. You guys must remember that the kitchen is the most important place. You must never let other people go in!! What’s more, you must not leak the recipes, which we rely on to make a living, for the sake of your own benefit. If I find out that any of you have other ideas about the recipes, then don’t blame me, as your mother, for disowning you!!” 

Little Fangping was frightened by his mother’s expression and tone, so he nodded repeatedly. Liu Yaner quickly said, “Mother, rest assured. Us siblings definitely won’t be ungrateful and vicious people! Moreover, our family also has a share of the shop. Who would do such a thing like ‘kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’?” 

After laying down the law with the children, Yu Caifeng and her husband went to the prefectural city with her younger brother and niece. They had hired an elderly man, who lived nearby to look after their house in the prefectural city, and he would help tidy the courtyard every day. No one had lived in the house for half a year, so the four of them spent an entire day to clean up before they finally put everything in order and settled down. 

There were five shops in front. With the storefront in the middle as the divider, three of the shops were used for the braised food shop, and the other two would be turned into a pickled food shop. Yu Xiaocao had a lot of recipes for pickled food on hand and Yu Caifeng was an excellent cook, so it was a waste for such a store to only sell braised food. 

Yu Hai and Liu Hu were busily working on the renovation of the shop in the front, while Yu Caifeng and Yu Xiaocao were responsible for supervising the renovation of the kitchen in the back. The kitchen was quite big, so the two stoves in the kitchen were more than enough for a family’s regular usage. However, it wasn’t quite sufficient for braising food. Therefore, they must first double the cooking area. 

Then, according to Xiaocao’s idea, they built an oven in the corner of the kitchen. The oven was made of black bricks, and the walls around it were similar to the heated walls [1] that wealthy families used for heating. The open fire underneath heated the oven, and in the middle, there was a place to put the ducks prepared with the secret recipe. The heat would be reflected onto the ducks from the wall to roast the ducks. With this method, the roasted duck would have crispy skin, tender meat, a gleaming appearance, and fragrant smell. 

The head manager of Zhenxiu Restaurant, who was presiding over the business in the prefectural city, found out that the Yu Family was going to open a braised food shop in the prefectural city. So he made some time to go over for a visit. When he saw the oven in the back kitchen, the head manager joked, “Miss Yu, you’re competing with Zhenxiu Restaurant ah! With your endless new recipes, our Zhenxiu Restaurant can’t win against you!”

Yu Xiaocao smiled and said, “I dare not! I also have a share in your restaurant’s fruit-scented roasted duck. Why would I fight with myself? This type of roasted duck that I’m making tastes completely different to the fruit-scented roasted duck. Moreover, we’re only selling ten ducks per day. It won’t affect Zhenxiu Restaurant’s business!” 

The head manager stroked his long beard and said, “What about the price? How much is Miss Yu planning on selling it for?”

“Rest assured, it will only be one tael cheaper than Zhenxiu Restaurant. We won’t casually set a price and disturb the market!” Why was it only one tael cheaper than Zhenxiu Restaurant? What kind of place was Zhenxiu Restaurant? No matter if it was their dining environment or reputation, they were much higher in class than a little braised food shop. Would they even be able to sell their food if they set the price to be the same as Zhenxiu Restaurant?

With a lower price, they weren’t deliberately lowering the price for malicious competition. In addition, they were doing the marketing gimmick of limited sales… The head manager could already foresee the blooming popularity of the braised food shop after its opening.


[1] heated wall - a wall with flues for space heating

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Translator: Myst