Chapter 56 - A Disastrous Year

“Daughter-in-law can’t take credit for the dishes. Xiaocao was the one who came up with these dishes.” Madam Liu looked at her daughter proudly and gave her some vermicelli. Her daughter was so clever to be able make such delicious vermicelli with the sweet potato flour. Her daughter should eat more as a reward!

They had made a decent amount of each dish. Madam Zhang was enjoying the delicious dishes, so she didn’t make any jarring remarks regarding Madam Liu giving her children more food. She had originally thought that they would spend the New Year frugally, but she hadn’t expected that such simple ingredients could also make a lavish New Year meal.

Madam Li stuffed a mouthful of food into her mouth as she said, “Xiaocao came up with them? She’s the one only in the family with the leisure to think of these things.”

Yu Xiaocao glared at Madam Li: ‘This fat woman never has anything good to say. She’s making it seem like she’s a gluttonous person who only thinks about eating!’

“Stop talking so much if you don’t have anything good to say. You won’t shut up even when you’re eating!” Yu Dashan had noticed his second brother’s displeasure and hastily reprimanded his wife.

Madam Zhao, who seldom ate together with the Yu Family, had several small plates placed in front of her. The food inside were exactly the same as everyone else. Madam Zhang knew that her youngest daughter-in-law was very particular about eating and didn’t like eating from the same plates as everyone. Thus, a separate set of the dishes was specially prepared for Madam Zhao and her son.

Little Doudou sucked a strand of vermicelli into his mouth with much effort, and then chewed it with a smile on his face. He beamed a smile at Xiaocao and said, “Second Sister’s cooking is the best! Doudou likes this really long thing. It’s very tasty!”

“This is vermicelli! Since our Doudou likes it, Second Sister will make some more for you to take back to town!” Yu Xiaocao never had any resistance towards cute children. Although it was quite laborious to make vermicelli, it was also good to have an improvement to their meals with a new type of dish.

“Yes, yes! This year’s yield of sweet potato is very high. We have enough sweet potato flour until the harvest in the fall. If we make some more vermicelli, we’ll have another type of dish to eat during the winter! The stewed bean sprouts and vermicelli tastes very good!” Madam Li sucked on the grease on her chopsticks, and then she used her chopsticks to rummage through the dishes. When she found a piece of fatty meat, she immediately stuffed it into her mouth.

Heizi, who sat beside her, had even stood up. He wiped his snot on his blackened sleeve, and then poked around in the dishes with his chopsticks. It seemed like he would never stop until he found a piece of meat.

Seeing the dirty appearance of the mother and son pair, no matter how delicious that homemade dish was, Yu Xiaocao still didn’t want to eat it anymore. With her head lowered, she concentrated on eating the dry-fried bean sprouts in front of her. She was seriously about to vomit if she looked at them any longer.

Dry-fried bean sprouts was made with bean sprouts that had just grown about one or two centimeters. After heating the lard in a hot pot, dried chili pepper was put into the pot and stir-fried. After that, bean sprouts, seasonings, and garlic sprouts were added into the pot and stir-fried. With the refreshing taste of the bean sprouts and the addition of lard as a base ingredient, it was natural that the taste wouldn’t be bad.

Unexpectedly, Madam Zhang was the first one to comment on Madam Li and her son’s unsightly eating manner, “How are other people supposed to eat when you guys keep picking and choosing in the dishes? If you’re going to keep doing this, then go back to your room to eat! Stop being so loathsome here!”

As she spoke, she also glanced at her youngest daughter-in-law’s direction. It turned out that Madam Zhang, who had been paying attention to her youngest daughter-in-law and grandson, noticed that from time to time Madam Zhao would look at her eldest daughter-in-law in disgust. Madam Zhao, who was originally enjoying the meal, had suddenly set down her chopsticks. Thus, she finally spoke up to stop Madam Li and her son’s unsightly behavior.

Seeing that the meat in the dishes were mostly gone, Madam Li finally stopped searching with her chopsticks. However, she still wolfed down the rest of the dishes, as if there was someone fighting over them with her.

The New Year Eve lunch ended shortly after this small episode. For this meal, Madam Zhang didn’t limit how much everyone could eat. Thus, even if the staple food was still coarse grain pancakes, the entire family still ate with a rare sense of satisfaction. The main reason was that it was a more sumptuous meal than in the previous years.

After the meal, Madam Zhang’s heart ached at the sight of the swiftly depleted food and muttered endlessly. With a grim expression, she finally stopped her complaints when Old Yu scolded her for ‘being so fussy even during the New Year’.

Dumplings were usually eaten in the evening during the New Year celebration. The Yu Family didn’t buy a lot of meat in the first place, so even when the stuffing was mixed with a lot of cabbage, it still wasn’t enough to fill everyone’s stomach.

There were only two types of fillings in the Yu Family’s dumplings, which were pork with cabbage and lard mixed with cabbage. On the evening of New Year's Eve, the men were given twenty dumplings each, while the womenfolk got ten each. The children received half of what the women got.

With only five small dumplings, even the three year old Little Doudou wasn’t full, let alone Yu Xiaocao and the others. Yu Heizi wasn’t satisfied after he finished his portion, so he swiftly stole one of Little Shitou’s dumplings when he wasn’t paying attention and stuffed it into his own mouth. He disregarded Little Shitou’s angry cries and approached Yu Xiaocao and Yu Xiaolian.

Yu Xiaocao swiftly pulled her siblings to their father’s table and stayed beside him. In the presence of Old Yu and their father, Yu Heizi naturally didn’t dare to act rashly. He could only brazenly go ask his own mother for more dumplings.  

Madam Li was a greedy woman, who wasn’t even willing to share her dumplings with her own child. Thus, she begged her mother-in-law shamelessly, “Mother, Heizi is a growing youth, who can eat as much as an adult. So five dumplings isn’t even enough as an appetizer. Mother, this daughter-in-law doesn’t dare request that he gets the same amount as the men. Just give him five more so that he’ll have the same amount as us!”

Madam Zhang looked up toward Madam Liu and nonchalantly said, “If you can guarantee that no one will complain that I’m being biased, then I don’t mind giving him five extra dumplings since it’s the New Year.”

Madam Liu had never liked arguing with others, so she said in a quiet voice, “Heizi is a growing youth, so who dares to say anything about him getting five more dumplings? However, he shouldn’t steal his younger siblings’ dumplings.”

“What does a child know? Younger Sister-in-law shouldn’t argue with a child. Mother, I’ll go give Heizi the dumplings.” Madam Li not only didn’t discipline her child, but she was also annoyed at Madam Liu for being difficult. Ay, it was true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

Madam Liu quietly entered the kitchen and divided her ten dumplings among her children. She put four dumplings into her youngest son’s bowl, and then split the remaining six dumplings between her two daughters.

Yu Xiaocao held her own bowl tightly and said, “Mother, I’m a light eater. Five dumplings are enough for me! If you give us all your dumplings, you’ll starve tonight. Even if you give me the dumplings, I won’t be able to finish them.”

Xiaolian chimed in, “Mother, you seldom eat dumplings throughout the year. Moreover, you’ve been busy the entire afternoon. If you can’t even eat a bite of the dumplings you made yourself, do you think that we, your children, will be able to eat?”

“Mother, take the dumpling back. I don’t want it!” Little Shitou quickly returned the dumplings that were in his bowl.

“You guys eat! Mother ate too much for lunch, so I’m not hungry right now!” Madam Liu picked up the dumplings and put them in her children’s bowls.

While the four of them were pushing back and forth, Yu Hai had come out with his bowl of dumplings. When he saw this scene, he felt both sad and touched. In the end, he made the decision to fairly distribute all the dumplings that the second branch had received. The children received eight dumplings each, while he and his wife each got ten.

“Ten dumplings aren’t enough for such a grown man like you? I’m used to eating light meals in the evening, so I’ll feel uncomfortable if I eat too much dumplings. Here, I’ll give you a few more. I’ll just drink more of the dumpling soup later…” Madam Liu’s heart ached for her husband and was reluctant to eat the dumplings that she had received.

“There’s no way you will be full with just ten dumplings. Quickly eat, or else it’s going to be cold!” Yu Hai went into the kitchen with a bowl and asked Madam Zhang to ladle a bowl full of dumpling soup for him. He swiftly drank the bowl of soup and filled his stomach first before he ate the dumplings. In this way, after eating the dumplings, he would be considered somewhat full.

On the first day of the New Year, since all the villagers knew about Madam Zhang’s stingy disposition, not many children came over for New Year greetings. Apart from Eldest Granduncle, Hunter Zhao, and several close family friends, the second branch of the Yu Family also felt too ashamed to bring their children to give New Year greetings to others.

Yu Xiaocao and her siblings didn’t receive any red envelopes [1] from their own grandparents, but her eldest granduncle gave them two copper coins as lucky money. When they arrived at the Zhao Family’s residence, Madam Zheng specially filled the embroidered pouches that she made with around one mace [2] worth of silver bits and gave a pouch to each child.

Yu Xiaolian looked at the embroidery on the pouch and loved it very much. Seeing the admiration on her face, Madam Zheng agreed to teach her how to do embroidery.

On the way home, Madam Liu whispered to her husband, “Based on the aura that Madam Zheng emits, she obviously didn’t come from an ordinary family. Just look at the embroidered pouches. Even the ordinary families in town won’t be so particular as to give the children lucky money in embroidered pouches, let alone people in the village.”

“It’s not only Madam Zheng, but also Uncle Zhao and Older Brother Bufan. Their martial arts skills don’t seem like skills of an ordinary hunter’s family. There must be some hidden reason as to why Uncle Zhao’s whole family is living in seclusion within the mountains. But this isn’t something that we should inquire about. We should just interact as usual. There’s no need to act in a deliberate manner.”

Yu Hai had long been aware that the Zhao Family, whether it was their eating habits, living conditions or behaviors, would unconsciously reveal the manners of a noble family. The men of the Zhao Family all exuded the orderly and dignified aura of a soldier. During the later period of the former dynasty, the imperial court was prodigal and immoral, and thus many righteous officials decided to live in seclusion. The Zhao Family might had been one of those families.

As the days passed by, the winter made it apparent that this year was doomed to be disastrous. In January, the snow almost never stopped. Many families had insufficient food reserves and were only able to eat one meal a day. So they were already quite lucky if they were able to survive starvation.

However, there were quite a few people who had died of starvation and froze to death because of the successive heavy snow. Moreover, there were even incidents in which none of the family had survived. Even in the city, there were incidents of people dying of starvation…

Fortunately, in Dongshan Village, except for several weak and elderly people who had failed to survive the cold winter, there wasn’t a phenomenon in which a large number of people died of starvation or froze to death. However, the situation in the village wasn’t optimistic either.

At this time, Madam Zhang deeply regretted being so stingy before the New Year and didn’t allow her second son to buy more foods to stock up. They had already used up all the millet flour at home. The only thing that they had at home that could satisfy their hunger was the sweet potatoes in the cellar and the sweet potato slices, which could only be grinded into sweet potato flour.  

Every day, they either ate sweet potato gruel or sweet potato cornbread. Even if they occasionally tried something different, it was just directly using the dried sweet potato to make porridge. The digestive system of the elderly wasn’t very good, so they would get heartburn after eating sweet potato on a daily basis. However, if they didn’t eat it, they would be facing the danger of starvation. Thus, Yu Xiaocao had no choice but to mix the mystic-stone water into herbal medicine and fed it to her family in order to nourish their intestines and stomach.

The continuous snowstorm had caused the roads to be blocked. The town’s food reserves were also facing a crisis due to a problem with the dispatch. Furthermore, the price for grains remained high without any signs of decline. White rice and wheat flour had become as expensive as meat!


[1] Red envelope, lucky money - auspicious money given in a red envelope during special holidays and events, such as New Year and weddings

[2] 1 mace (钱) = 1/10 tael

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Myst's Thoughts

A disastrous year means something bad is coming up  

Translator: Myst