Chapter 53 - Become a Shareholder

Yu Xiaocao thought about it and said, “If you want to open an oyster sauce factory, then the shelf life of the oyster sauce will indeed be a problem! It’s alright during the winter since the temperature is low in the north. Thus, there’s no problem with keeping it for several months. However, it will be rather troublesome for the summer!”

In her previous life, what methods were used to extend the shelf life of food? Yu Xiaocao wrinkled her brows and was lost in her thoughts. Although Zhou Zixu was anxious, he refrained himself from disturbing her.

Yu Xiaocao muttered to herself, “The usual method used to extend the shelf life of foods was to store them in low temperature. However, there’s no refrigerator here…”

“Icebox? Is it a box to store ice?” Steward Zhou, who was brought over by Zhou Zixu, couldn’t help asking a question.

“Uh… Yes, a box to store ice.” Yu Xiaocao just realized that she had verbally expressed her inner thoughts, but it was difficult to explain what a ‘refrigerator’ was. Thus, she just agreed with Steward Zhou’s words.

Steward Zhou pondered for a moment and said, “It’s fine to transport goods in the iceboxes during winter. However, the expense will probably be very high in the summer. Besides, how big would the icehouse have to be in order to store a year’s worth of ice?

“There’s also another way to extend the shelf life, which is to add a lot of sugar and salt. However, with this method, the taste of the oyster sauce will definitely be affected!” Yu Xiaocao shook her head and denied her own suggestion.

Zhou Zixu, who had come from a family of imperial merchants, naturally knew the importance of a product’s quality. He couldn’t resist asking, “Are there any other ways?”

“There is also the method of preservation with propolis! However, honey is already so expensive, let alone propolis! It wouldn’t cost any less than using ice for the transportation and preservation!”

Propolis? Zhou Zixu had heard of honey. His mother had heard from an unknown source that she could enhance her beauty and maintain her figure by drinking honey water. Thus, she had been drinking a cup of honey water daily since last year. But what was propolis?

“It… It would be great if we can also make ice in the summer.” Yu Xiaocao had had the habit of talking to herself since her previous life.

Wasn’t ice formed naturally at low temperature? Was it something that could be made? This little girl’s imagination was seriously too fanciful. In his heart, Steward Zhou disagreed with the idea of his young master cooperating with a poor little girl to open a factory.

“Third Young Master, have you heard of saltpeter?” Yu Xiaocao suddenly recalled an article called “Ingenious Ice-making Methods in Ancient Times” that she had read in her previous life. It seemed that since the late Tang Dynasty, when gunpowder was produced, people often mined a large amount of saltpeter.

Since then, there was a precedent of ice-making in the summer. After that, traders, who added sugar to the ice to attract customers, began to emerge. In the Song Dynasty, merchants added fruits or juices in it. The businessmen of the Yuan Dynasty had even added fruit jam and milk into the ice, which was very similar to the modern ice cream. She was curious about whether there were any examples of using saltpeter to make ice in this revised time period.

“Saltpeter? Yes, I know. It’s sold in the pharmacy. Can… saltpeter make ice?” Zhou Zixu had also heard her mumbles, so he automatically made the connection when she mentioned saltpeter.

Yu Xiaocao looked at him with approval and nodded, “When saltpeter dissolves in water, it absorbs a lot of heat and lowers the temperature of the water. It can even freeze the water.”

“Really? How did you know?” Zhou Zixu was still somewhat skeptical.

Yu Xiaocao was stunned for a moment, and then spoke with a stern expression, “It’s none of your business! If you don’t believe me, then you can just go buy some saltpeter and try it!”

Steward Zhou stroked his beard, pondered for a moment, and said, “I think I might have seen a documentation that recorded the usage of saltpeter to make ice when I was organizing the ancient books that Second Master had collected before his death.”

“Oh? So, it’s true that saltpeter can make ice? Steward Zhou, go on!” Zhou Zixu inquired with great interest.

With a bitter smile, Steward Zhou shook his head and said, “Second Master had a large collection of books, so I don’t really remember which book I had seen this from. We should listen to Miss Yu regarding the specific details of how to make the ice.”

Zhou Zixu’s eyes lit up as he looked at Yu Xiaocao, as if he was a child begging for candy, “Xiaocao, don’t keep us guessing. Quickly say it, say it!”

“You need to dig a big pond inside the factory, and then put a large vat that is half-filled with water in the center of the pond. After that, put the saltpeter into the pond and fill the pond with water. I’ve never done this before, so I’m also uncertain about the ratio for the water and saltpeter. You will know after experimenting a few more times.” Yu Xiaocao provided them with general guidance, but Zhou Zixu was responsible for carrying out the actual procedures. 

Zhou Zixu nodded and thought about how he would do the experiment when he goes back. Steward Zhou spoke up again, “Based on what you said, it seems like we need a large amount of saltpeter. However, the cost of saltpeter isn’t low either!”

They had originally come up with the idea of using saltpeter to produce ice in order to reduce the production cost. However, the prime cost didn’t seem much less than storing ice in an icehouse.

As expected, the steward in charge of the Zhou Family’s external affairs was sensible and had foresight. Yu Xiaocao nodded with a smile, “Steward Zhou is correct! However, saltpeter can be reused. The method of evaporative crystallization can be used to recast the saltpeter that was dissolved in water.”

Steward Zhou nodded his head slightly and was inwardly surprised: ‘She’s such a young little girl. How can she have such vast knowledge and good memory? She’s even more knowledgeable than a head steward like him, who boosts about reading a wide range of books. Does the Yu Family have a secret that I doesn’t know?’

It wasn’t weird for him to be skeptical. At the end of the former dynasty, there was a lot of chaos caused by the war and many aristocratic families had fallen into oblivion during the long process. Could it be that a fallen aristocrat family had settled within this small fishing village?

“Steward Zhou, stop overthinking this matter! I have an agreement with Xiaocao to not make a detailed inquiry about anything except for business-related matters. What does it have to do with us how she knew that saltpeter can make ice? Don’t make things complicated. I don’t want to lose a good business partner!” Zhou Zixu withdrew the smile on his face and faintly said. He naturally revealed the dignified and imposing manner of a noble family’s young master.

As if a large bell rang loudly within heart, Steward Zhou was inwardly stunned as he came to a realization. He put aside his sidetracked thoughts and bowed with great respect and solemnity, “Young Master, thank you for your reminder! This old servant is deeply ashamed!”

When Zhou Zixu turned to face Yu Xiaocao, he reverted to a gentle and friendly attitude again, “Now that the problem of the oyster sauce’s preservation and transportation have been resolved, we can begin the construction of the oyster sauce factory in early spring. Where do you think we should open the oyster sauce factory?”

“In terms of business, Third Young Master Zhou definitely has more foresight than an eight year old girl like me. So just make the decision yourself!” Yu Xiaocao had also sensed Steward Zhou’s examining gaze earlier. Fortunately, the great lord, Third Young Master Zhou, was here to control the situation and prevented her from making a slip. She inwardly alerted herself to keep a low profile in the future and stop standing out so much.

It was impossible for Zhou Zixu to not notice her faint vigilance. However, he instinctively felt that this little girl in front of him was like an undiscovered mine, in which the hidden treasures could only be recovered by digging slowly and deeply. As for how this ‘treasure’ was formed, there was no need to get to the bottom of this. He didn’t want to be regretful later due to a moment of curiosity.

“In my opinion, it’s a good idea to build the oyster sauce factory near the harbor. The traffic is very convenient whether it’s by land or water. Furthermore, it’s near the sea, so it will be more convenient to purchase raw materials!” Zhou Zixu expressed his thoughts and asked for Yu Xiaocao’s advice.

Yu Xiaocao, who had learned her lesson, just smiled and nodded silently.

Zhou Zixu’s eyes darted around and knew how to make this little girl speak up. With a faint smile on his face, he looked at Xiaocao and asked, “Do you want to invest in the oyster sauce factory?”

Become a shareholder? Wasn’t this a modern term? Why would this term come out of Third Young Master Zhou’s mouth? Could it be that… this Third Young Master Zhou was also a transmigrator? Yu Xiaocao widened her eyes and looked at him in disbelief.

Zhou Zixu misunderstood her meaning and smiled, “What? You don’t know what ‘become a shareholder’ means? When Jianwen Emperor was still the imperial crown prince, he had established an ocean shipping corporation and pulled many high-ranking officials and noblemen to make an investment. Thus, the term ‘become a shareholder’ began to spread within the business industry. It just means to make an investment and join in the business.”

“Oh…” Yu Xiaocao was frightened by the false alarm and almost broke out in a cold sweat. However, she immediately became interested when she heard that she could invest in the oyster sauce factory.

“But… I don’t have a lot of money on hand. I only have less than one hundred taels…” Yu Xiaocao took out her secret stash of money from the corner and scratched her head in embarrassment.

Zhou Zixu looked at the money that was scattered on the kang bed. She had earned all this money from him, so of course, he knew how much money she had. He had originally intended to gift the young girl with a share of the factory, but an urge to tease her had emerged within him at this time,

He coughed and said, “We got the recipe for the oyster sauce from you, so I had planned to give you a share after building the factory. But, since you feel sorry about taking it for free, this money… I’ll just accept it!”

The expression on Yu Xiaocao’s face immediately stiffened. She helplessly watched as her money was plundered by that evil, ‘black-hearted’ businessman. Her heart was bleeding!

No way! She, Yu Xiaocao, could accept anything but being forced to suffer a loss in silence!

“Third Young Master Zhou!” She gnashed her teeth and said, “Isn’t it too dull for such a large factory to only produce oyster sauce?”

Zhou Zixu’s eyes lit up: ‘My little ancestor! I was just waiting for you to say that!’

“What? Does Xiaocao have other suggestions?” Zhou Zixu looked at her with great interest.

“I have secret recipes for two more sauces! I wonder if Third Young Master Zhou will be interested in them?” Anyone who was sensible could had felt Yu Xiaocao emphasizing her tone when she said ‘Third Young Master Zhou’. Ah, it seemed like the little kitten was bearing its claws!

Zhou Zixu happily moved closer and said, “I’m interested. Of course I’m interested! Quickly tell me about it!”

“Humph!” Yu Xiaocao proudly turned her head away and said, “If you want my two secret recipes, then exchange them with shares!”

In fact, for the establishment of the factory, the recipe for oyster sauce and the two sauces that the little girl had mentioned were all obtained from Yu Xiaocao. The Zhou Family had only provided money and labor.

Zhou Zixu naturally wouldn’t give up on an endless flow of treasures for the sake of a small profit. He gallantly exclaimed, “If the two recipes are of the same value as the oyster sauce, then I’ll give up half of the shares for the factory!”

Half? Yu Xiaocao had originally planned to only take 20% of the dividend, so this had far exceeded her expectations. 

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Translator: Myst