After finding out that Xiaomei wasn’t going to be the young miss’s personal maidservant, the feeling of crisis within Yingtao’s relaxed by more than a half. She wiped the tears off her face and asked, “Young Miss, did you also give Xiaomei her name too? She also has a name related to trees !”
When Yingtao and the rest of the personal maids got promoted, they all asked their young miss to give them names. Yu Xiaocao felt that her own name  was based off of a tenacious plant, so she also decided to give plant-based names to her personal maids. Thus, the names were: Yingtao (cherry), Pipa (loquat), Yangliu (willow), and Wutong (Chinese parasol tree). Of the names, two of them were related to fruit-bearing trees and two were related to wood-bearing trees. In fact, all of the names given to her maids seemed a lot more elegant than her own…
Yu Xiaocao refuted her guess, “No, Xiaomei was a name given to her by her parents...you two must be tired after sitting so long in the carriage ah! Make sure to rest well today and prepare yourselves. You guys will probably be very busy tomorrow and the day after tomorrow!”
Yangliu somewhat timidly stated, “Young Miss, do you want us to help you make braised food? Although this servant had learned a few dishes from Young Miss while we were at the general’s residence, my skills are nowhere near as good as your own. However, I will definitely do my best to learn and get better!”
Yingtao seemed to have set her sights on Xiaomei and stared at the other girl blatantly, as if she was trying to skewer her. She thought for a bit and then said, “I’m not very good at cooking, so I shouldn’t help in the back kitchen with the food. Usually, this servant manages Young Miss’s monthly finances and her clothes, so sums are no difficulty to me. I personally volunteer to help out at the pickled vegetable store!”
At first, Yu Xiaocao took Yingtao’s request at face value and felt that since Xiaomei was new to everything, having Yingtao helping out was a good thing. Thus, she also agreed to Yingtao’s request.
Prior to dinnertime, the business at the Yu Family’s two stores became hopping again. With Meizi’s mother watching the four large braising pots in the back, Yu Caifeng was a lot more free now. She noticed that Liu Yaner was incredibly busy at the shop front, so she went to the counter to also help receive customers.
Although the business at the pickled vegetable shop was not as popular as the braised food shop, there was also a continuous line of customers there. The orders all asked for half a catty of this and a catty of that. At first, Xiaomei was a bit frazzled from the work, but later on she became more and more familiar with the flow of work in the store. Her abacus was soon clacking without stopping.
However, the person next to her seemed to want to join in on the fun. Every time Xiaomei was just about to finish her calculations on the abacus, that person already stated the total to the customer. That person was Yingtao.
Yu Xiaocao’s plan was to let Huang Xiaomei practice for a few days. Once Xiaomei had a good grasp on how the business at the pickled vegetable store worked, then she could work independently. At first, she was just observing how Xiaomei’s calculating skills were. Although Huang Xiaomei’s ability at doing arithmetic in her head was on the poorer side, she was a skilled hand at using the abacus and very rarely had errors come up. As long as she continued to practice, Xiaocao would be able to hand the store’s daily affairs to her and go off to do other needed tasks.
However, the girl Yingtao seemed to be purposely making it more difficult for Huang Xiaomei. The maid showed off her skills at calculating sums in her head, which she had learned from the young miss, and never gave Huang Xiaomei the chance to reach the answer on her own. After this happened a few times, Huang Xiaomei started to get angry. She could also tell that this maid, who was dressed in clothing that was more fancy and beautiful than the young miss, was targeting her on purpose!
“Just what are you trying to do?” Huang Xiaomei took advantage of a time when the shop didn’t have any customers and turned around to confront Yingtao somewhat heatedly. Yingtao had an innocent look on her face, “What’s wrong ah? I’m just helping out in the store like the young miss said I could! You’re too slow at using the abacus and there were so many people in the store. Isn’t it right that I help you calculate the totals ah?”
“If you were sincerely trying to help me, you could help with weighing out the pickled vegetables or handling the money and change...I admit that you are faster at calculating the total than I am, but I am only starting out at this type of business. Practice makes perfect and with familiarity you learn the trick. Don’t you understand this type of reasoning?” Huang Xiaomei was barely able to restrain her desire to rush up to Yingtao’s face and rip off that innocent expression. She was definitely doing this on purpose, a hundred percent!
Yingtao quirked up an eyebrow. It was as if the angrier Xiaomei got, the happier she felt. She arrogantly replied, “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring a change of old clothing over. This set of autumn clothing was just made at the residence. If I got it dirty and needed to accompany young miss somewhere, I can’t possibly wear dirty clothing and shame her right? So, I can only stand far away. However, I can’t just stand here and do nothing, so I can only help you calculate the sums. Who would have thought you wouldn’t be grateful? Truly a waste of my good intentions!”
In terms of arguing, how could Huang Xiaomei be her opponent? Within a moment, she became so angry that her entire face turned red and tears of frustration welled up in her eyes. She managed to restrain her emotions as she angrily glared at Yingtao.
Yingtao delicately patted her lips with the handkerchief in her hands and acted out a surprised expression, “Oh my, oh my! I’m doing my best to help, yet you resent me for this? Are you going to be a tattletale and tell on me to the young miss? Although I haven’t spent a long time with the young miss, I still have a closer relationship than someone like you who was just bought as a new servant! What do you think, do you think the young miss will believe you or believe me?”
“I will believe whoever is right!” Yu Xiaocao came in with Yangliu as they struggled to transport a large ceramic vat inside. After switching out the old vat of savory and spicy pickled tofu for the new, she raised her head to look at the two girls in the store and calmly replied.
Yangliu gave Yingtao a look that said, “Just what trouble are you causing now?”. Yingtao secretly glared back at her and then smiled at Yu Xiaocao, “Young Miss, this servant is helping Younger Sister Xiaomei calculate sums yet she seems a bit unhappy because she thinks I’m stealing her work. Young Miss, I only discussed this a bit with her but she suddenly started crying. Please punish me!”
Huang Xiaomei breathed heavily for a few times before she shrilly rebutted, “That’s not true! Young Miss wanted me to practice more on the abacus to calculate sums yet she likes to show off how good she is at doing arithmetic in her head. Every time I’m about to finish calculating, she says the total out loud! She’s doing this on purpose!”
Yingtao replied in surprise, “Oh my! I only helped you because I saw there were a lot of customers here earlier and I was afraid that they would have to wait too long. It really wasn’t out of malicious intentions! That being said, if you didn’t tell me, how could I know that the young miss was trying to help you to become better at calculating sums ah?” Yingtao even had a look of ‘why didn’t you tell me earlier’ on her face.
Yu Xiaocao somewhat helplessly gave Yingtao a look before she interjected, “Normally you are quite generous and open-minded. How come you’re causing trouble for Xiaomei today?”
When Yingtao heard this, her eyes turned red and she squeezed out a reply, “Young Miss, you have a new servant now. Doesn’t that mean you don’t want me anymore?”
“How could that thought possibly cross your head? Didn’t I explain it to you earlier ah? Xiaomei will be solely in charge of the day to day management of the pickled vegetable store in the future and doesn’t have any conflict with your current duties ah. Yingtao, you and Yangliu and the other two are all my personal maidservants that I selected myself! What does ‘personal maidservant’ mean? It means that wherever I go in the future, you will all go with me! You and Xiaomei are different. One of you will be helping with my daily needs while the other one will be helping my family take care of the shop. Everyone has their own duties, so why do you need to strive for favor?”
Although Yu Xiaocao’s body hadn’t reached the age of twelve, the soul inside of her was over thirty years old. Seeing through Yingtao’s inner thoughts and fears, who was only in her teenage years, was quite easy.
After hearing the young miss’s explanation, Yingtao felt her face turn bright red and sheepishly looked at Huang XIaomei. She lowered her head and said, “Xiaomei, I was the one at fault earlier. Let me apologize to you! In a bit, when more customers come, you only have to handle calculating the totals and handling the money, I’ll weigh the pickled vegetables!”
Huang Xiaomei also wasn’t a petty person who held onto grudges. She finally understood why Yingtao kept targeting her; it was because she was afraid of losing her position. Huang Xiaomei smiled openly at her and said, “Now that I know what was the issue, it’s not a problem! If we’re not busy, Older Sister Yingtao you can check if the sums I’m calculating are correct. If it’s more busy, then you can help handle the money and give the change to the customers. You’re wearing such a beautiful set of clothes. If they got stained with soy sauce or other things, it’d be hard to wash off!”
Yingtao shook her head and said, “It’s okay! Young Miss, I believe your cousin has a set of working clothes that she’s not using. This servant will change into that and help. I will truly be helping this time!”
With enough people manning the shop, Yu Xiaocao could finally do other tasks. After Yangliu pleaded to her, she took the maid to the kitchen and taught her a few more recipes. That night, the Yu Family and their servants were all able to eat at a much more sumptuous table.
The next evening, Yu Xiaocao took out a bunch of already slaughtered ducks and chickens from the ice cellar to thaw and brine for a night. On the morning of the prefectural magistrate’s wife’s birthday banquet, she especially woke up early and instructed her two personal maidservants to prepare the ingredients needed to make longevity peach cakes.
That’s right, she was preparing to make a longevity peach cake for each table at the birthday banquet. She even called her uncle, Liu Hu, and cousin, Liu Junping, over to do hard labor. It was unavoidable. If she and the two other girls were in charge of making the whipped cream frosting, it would take them too long and their arms would die from the effort.
During the slow times of the farming seasons of summer and autumn, Yu Xiaocao had made quite a few cans of preserved peaches, preserved strawberries, rose jam, strawberry jam and other sweet treats. When she came to the prefectural city, she also brought quite a few of these over with her to use as snacks. At this time, it was the perfect time to use them.
The cakes were baked and shaped such that the bottom was wider than the top, which made them have the shape of a peach. A knife was used to cut slices across the peach-shaped cakes that were about as wide as two fingers. They added preserved peaches and strawberries between each slice and then covered the whole cake with a layer of whipped cream frosting to make it look like a whole longevity peach. A bit of strawberry and rose jam was used to color the tip of the peach and a bit of whipped cream frosting was squeezed out at the bottom of the peach cakes to resemble little leaves, which were dyed green using spinach juice. Thus, each beautiful and perfect peach cake was finished.
In the inner courtyard of the prefectural magistrate’s residence, all of the guests were exchanging pleasantries and idly talking. Just as the prefectural magistrate and his wife invited the guests to take their seats to start the banquet, the head steward of the residence hurriedly came over and spoke a few words into the prefectural magistrate’s ear.
The prefectural magistrate’s eyes immediately lit up and the smile on his face became more broad. He gave a few instructions to the head steward and then stood up to address the guests, “For my wife’s birthday celebration, I had originally wanted to have it at Zhenxiu Restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere with all of you. However, who would have thought that Zhenxiu Restaurant is too popular and we weren’t able to reserve enough tables. I am truly regretful that we weren’t able to properly serve everyone.”
No matter whether it was the male guests or the female guests behind the screen, all of them replied that the prefectural magistrate was being too courteous.
Prefectural Magistrate Ning’s smile did not abate and he raised his voice to continue, “I have a little friend whose ability to make roasted duck and roasted chicken is not in any way inferior to Zhenxiu Restaurant. However, the store that she opened only limits their sales of roasted duck and roasted chicken to ten a day. I’m sure many of the guests also know about this?”
The people who were at the prefectural magistrate’s banquet were all mostly people with some standing in the prefectural city. They naturally had heard that when the Yu’s Braised Food Store had opened, the prefectural magistrate himself had gone to the opening ceremony. Who would have thought that the prefectural magistrate really regarded these people with importance.
 The character used for 'mei' means plum tree.
 The character used for 'cao' means grass.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: This was translated while I was stuck at home, far away from any Asian bakeries. I really want to eat some tasty sponge cake with fruit inside and light frosting now! Such torture! Guess I should go eat some ice cream instead to sate my sweets craving...