Chapter 74 - Collaboration

When Yu Hang noticed that his little sister continued to glance at his clothing, his eyes flickered evasively, and he squeezed out a smile, “That uh...when I was moving timber around, I accidentally caught my coat on a branch…” 

“If a branch poked a hole into your coat, it should leave a triangle sized hole, right? How did it become little strips?” Little Shitou asked doubtfully. He liked to climb trees and occasionally his clothing would also get caught on the branches.  

Yu Hang coughed fakely and said, “If I said a branch grazed my clothing, then it was a branch! Little children shouldn’t have too much to say! ...Younger Sister, how’s Father’s leg injury right now?”

“Father’s injury is mostly healed, and he can even walk with crutches right now. Older Brother, our family has already split and we also revamped the old residence. If you don’t feel happy staying here, then come home with us! Now we don’t have to deal with Grandmother constantly scolding us or Eldest Aunt’s sour comments!”

Yu Xiaocao could tell that the marks left on his clothing seemed to have been caused by a whip. In addition, every time she came over to see him, her older brother always seemed to have new injuries on him. Thus, she wanted to bring Yu Hang home.

When Yu Hang found out that their branch had finally separated from the others, a true smile finally appeared on his face. However, when he remembered Shopkeeper Zhang’s ruthless personality, he knew that the man wouldn’t let him leave easily. He recalled that the last time one of the apprentices’ family members came to take him home, they were told they had to give up twenty taels to take him out. He couldn’t help but frown at that memory.

When they separated from the family, his stingy grandmother would definitely not give their branch a lot of money. In addition, they had to rebuild the house, buy furniture and purchase household wares. He was sure that his family had to take on some debt. As the oldest son of the family, he wasn’t in a position to help them with their issues, thus, he definitely couldn’t add to their troubles!

With great difficulty, Yu Hang tampered down his desire to leave and slowly shook his head, “The master at the shop treats me pretty well, and he already taught me a lot of carpentry skills. I want to stay here a little longer and it won’t be too late to go home after I master this trade.  

Yu Xiaocao tried again to convince him but Yu Hang stubbornly insisted on staying, so there was nothing more she could do. She stuffed a meat bun that she brought over into his hands and gave him fifty copper coins. Only after she did that did she silently leave.

As he watched the slowly disappearing figures of his younger brother and sister, Yu Hang did his best to hold back his tears. He hoped that he could endure long enough to see his siblings again in the future... 

“Older Sister, where should we go now?” Little Shitou felt somewhat down as even he could sense something was off.

Xiaocao pondered the question and then said, “It’s still early right now, we should go to Zhenxiu Restaurant and see if Third Young Master Zhou is there.” 

When they got to Zhenxiu Restaurant, the manager told them that the Young Master had gone to the capital to oversee the details surrounding the opening of a branch restaurant. He was so busy that he couldn’t even spare time for the condiment factory and could only have Steward Zhou watch it. 

After leaving Zhenxiu Restaurant, Yu Xiaocao thought for a bit and then took her little brother to look at the food market. 

Since they were growing vegetables at home, it was necessary to explore the food market. The market at Tanggu was on the most remote road in the town and was named ‘North Market’. At noon, the market didn’t have much going on. Only a couple of stalls were open, and they were selling radishes and Chinese cabbages that didn’t look very fresh. It was obvious that they had been stored in the cellar for a whole winter.

Yu Xiaocao pulled her younger brother into a pickled vegetable stand and found that there wasn’t much variety. There was a black colored thick paste that faintly smelled of mold, a form of dried radish that had been salted, and a watery-looking salted Chinese cabbage...compared to her previous life’s supermarkets, which had more than twenty varieties of pickled and salted vegetables, this was quite a let down. 

Xiaocao rubbed her nose and started to plan. Should she pickle some salted vegetables and leave them here to sell? However, even if she wanted to make some, she wouldn’t be able to do so this year. The family stores of radish and Chinese cabbage were low. She wasn’t even sure if there was enough left to pickle for her own family to eat. 

“Little girl, do you want to buy some salted vegetables?” The stall’s shopkeeper was a sixteen to seventeen year old young man. He greeted them with a friendly demeanor despite their shabby looking clothes.  

Yu Xiaocao sheepishly replied, “I was just looking if you had any pickled cucumbers…” 

“Pickled cucumbers? Is that also a type of pickled vegetable? You can pickle cucumbers?” The young man asked humbly as his voice carried an undercurrent of excitement. 

This pickled vegetable stand was opened by his mother when she was still alive. At that time, his mother was very skilled in pickling and salting vegetables. People from far-flung villages would come and buy a jar from her. His mother later fell ill and passed away, and he had only learned a few pickling methods. In addition, the taste of his pickles could not even come close to how tasty his mother’s were. Gradually, the business in his stall declined. Jiang Yu felt anxious and angry as he watched his mother’s life’s work slowly declining in his own hands.  

“Ah...when cucumbers are in season, I’ll make some pickled cucumbers and bring them over for you to taste. If you think they taste good, I was planning on placing them in your stall to sell…” Yu Xiaocao smiled winsomely.   

Jiang Yu sighed heavily and said, “I’m afraid that my stall won’t be able to last until then…” 

Yu Xiaocao thought for a bit and then said, “Ah, older brother…”

“I’m called Jiang Yu, just call me by my name!” Jiang Yu smiled somewhat bashfully. 

Yu Xiaocao nodded and continued, “Jiang Yu, I have a few pickled vegetable recipes and they should taste pretty good...do you know how to write? I can tell you them while you write them down. You can follow my recipe and see how they turn out.”

“We’re neither relatives nor friends, how could I possibly take your pickled vegetable recipes? ...how about this, if the pickled vegetables turn out good and sell well, I’ll give you a portion of the profits. I need to pay rent and taxes, so I’ll take seventy percent and give thirty. What do you think?” Jiang Yu was quite young but had a good head for business.

Yu Xiaocao slowly shook her head and smiled to placate Jiang Yu who had opened his mouth to speak, “You need to account for the manufacturing and material costs, while I’m only giving you a recipe. I don’t need thirty percent of the profits. How about we split it twenty-eighty, you’ll take eighty percent and only need to give me twenty percent.” 

Jiang Yu couldn’t tell what her recipes would taste like but inwardly promised that if the sales went well, he would give her a larger cut of the profits. He replied, “When my mother was still alive, she had sent me to a private school for a few years, later on...anyway, I can handle writing down a few recipes.” 

In her previous life, she had gone into the workforce early as her two younger siblings needed to pay for both schooling and boarding costs. There was a time when they had a very difficult time making ends meet. In an effort to save money, she had learned how to marinate several different types of pickled vegetables. Her younger brother and sister both said that pickled vegetables sold at stores couldn’t even come ten percent close to how good hers tasted. Even after they graduated college and had gone to different cities to work and settle down, they still asked her to make some pickled vegetables and mail them over.  

She recited the recipes that she was the best at and let Jiang Yu carefully write down the details. The types of recipes she gave were: spicy and numbing dried radish strips, spicy young radish, Korean kimchi, spicy kelp strips, soybeans in wine, and pickled beans. 

Originally she had felt bad that the teenager’s business was not going well and didn’t want his stall to go bankrupt so she was only planning on teaching him two types of pickled vegetables for the sake of it. But now since she was getting her own share, then it was fine to tell him more recipes. The good thing was that all of the condiments and seasonings, other than MSG which the youth had never heard of, used in pickling vegetables could all be found at a general store or pharmacy. 

For example: star anise, fennel, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns were all used by later generations as seasonings and spices. In ancient times, however, these were all medicinal herbs. It was only after the Emperor Emeritus and current emperor ascended the throne that these spices started being used as seasonings in food. These herbs were not very expensive. However, Xiaocao’s family could barely feed everyone. In fact, using oil to cook their food was considered a luxury for them. Thus, it was natural that they would be reluctant to shell out money for these spices. 

Under Jiang Yu’s recommendations, Xiaocao went to a relatively remote section of the food market and found a general goods stall where she could buy cheap condiments and spices. At noon, other than the shopkeeper with a beard like a mountain goat who was dozing off in a chair, not a soul could be found in the stall.  

This particular goods stall had very few articles for daily use. Inside the stall were two large vats and they distributed a smell of soy sauce and vinegar. When the two scents combined, it didn’t smell very good. Next to the wall was a long table with many wooden boxes. These boxes contained the condiments that Xiaocao wanted to buy.

“Shopkeeper, how are these spices sold?” Xiaocao asked worriedly as she rubbed at chest pocket which held an old embroidered pouch with about a hundred or so copper coins in it. 

When the old shopkeeper heard her voice, he suddenly raised his head and sleepily blinked a couple of times. His mountain goat beard moved up and down as he said, “Do you want to weigh the spices separately or all together?” 

“How much would it cost to weigh the spices separately versus together?” Yu Xiaocao asked after thinking a bit.

“If you’re weighing them separately, Chinese cinnamon is eighteen copper coins per ounce, bay leaves are fifteen coppers, star anise twenty-six coppers, Sichuan peppercorn twenty coppers and fennel is twenty coppers.” The old shopkeeper glanced at the two siblings and proposed, “If you’re buying larger quantities, it’s generally more worth it to buy them separately.”

Yu Xiaocao gnawed on her lip and sheepishly smiled, “Then...I should probably weigh them altogether, right? I just want one ounce worth of spices to use for a bit…”

“Okay!” The shopkeeper took out a square shaped piece of rough straw paper and folded it into a tube-shape and started to grab some spices.

Xiaocao hesitated but then spoke up, “Shopkeeper Grandfather, can I add the spices myself?” After running a braised foods shop in her past life, she already knew the ratios of spices needed for her food by heart. Now that she was pressed for money, she didn’t want to waste even the tiniest speck of spice. 

The old shopkeeper hesitated for a moment and his eyes scanned over the two siblings and their old and patched up attire. In the end, he nodded his head in agreement. 

Xiaocao followed the proportions she had memorized and carefully scooped out the spices from the wooden boxes. When the old shopkeeper noticed that she didn’t try to play a small trick and take only the expensive spices, he smoothed his beard with a hand and inwardly nodded his head in approval.  

When she thought the weight was about right, Xiaocao folded the tube closed and handed it to the old shopkeeper to let him weigh it. The shopkeeper’s scale was similar to the ones used in a pharmacy. It was very small and could weigh things very precisely. The weight came out to be one ounce and three maces [1], which came out to be twenty-five copper coins total. 

Xiaocao looked at the two large vats again and hesitated before she said, “Shopkeeper Grandfather, I also want to buy some soy sauce and vinegar, but I didn’t bring any containers with me…” 

The old man grabbed two small bamboo tubes and smiled, “It’s not a problem. Since you called me ‘shopkeeper grandfather’ then I’ll let you borrow these two containers. The next time you come to buy spices, you can just return them to me. Now tell me, how much soy sauce and vinegar do you want?” 

She could tell that these two containers were goods that the shop was selling. Once soy sauce and vinegar went into them, it would definitely dye the containers a different color and also leave a smell behind. After being used, these containers likely couldn’t be sold again. Xiaocao’s heart warmed up.  


[1] 10 maces = 1 ounce, 16 ounces = 1 catty

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Translator: Sanguine