Chapter 75 - Helping Out

She thought for a bit and almost blurted out ‘half a catty’ but then she remembered that in ancient times half a catty was equal to around eight ounces. After all, wasn’t there a saying that said ‘a half a catty is eight ounces’, which meant ‘there’s not much to choose between the two’? Thus, she hastily corrected herself, “Please give me four ounces of each.” 

The price for the vinegar and soy sauce came out to be five copper coins total. She then calculated all of the transactions she had conducted today. Her mother had given her twenty copper coins for pocket money, and she had sold Xiaolian’s embroidery for one hundred copper coins. The embroidery silks cost ten coins, and the spices and condiments were thirty coins. She had also stuffed ten coins into her older brother’s hands. After that, she still had eighty coins on hand. So it wasn’t like she was a spendthrift right?

Growl….

They had eaten breakfast early today. Even Little Shitou, who was used to having only two meals a day, hugged his belly, which was rumbling in protest, with a distressed look on his small face. However, he didn’t even suggest the possibility of buying something to eat.  

The food market had some booths selling breakfast that hadn’t closed yet. Xiaocao carefully held her condiments and walked over to the stalls with her younger brother. She bought a bowl of hot soup, took out her shepherd’s purse pancake, and soaked a piece of the pancake in the soup for her brother. 

The soup they bought was just a plain Chinese cabbage soup and only had some salt in it as flavoring. On the surface, only a few drops of oil could be seen. In actuality, the taste of the soup was quite mediocre. However, it had been simmering on a small stove for a long time and mouthfuls of it easily warmed up the belly. The pancakes they had brought with them from home this morning had long become stone cold. By letting the pancakes soak in the soup, it was warmed up and became easy and comforting to eat. 

There was a little child, about four to five years in age, who was at the breakfast booth. He eyed the two siblings’ delicious pancake with pure envy. He flailed an arm and complained at his father, “Father, I also want to eat that kind of savory, delicious pancake. Go buy one for me!” 

The stall owner had noticed that the pancake contained verdant green vegetables. Perplexed, he asked, “Little girl, where did you buy that flatbread? How could there be green vegetables in this season?”

Little Shitou ate the pancake in large bites and joyfully replied, “My second sister made this pancake, but it doesn’t have green vegetables inside. We dug up some wild herbs in the mountains for the pancakes. My second sister is a very good cook, so no one else can make something as delicious as this.” 

“I want to eat the pancake, Father, Father, I want to eat wild herb pancakes, wahhhhhh…” After he saw the satisfied expression on Little Shitou’s face, the little fellow started to cry and sob pitifully that he wanted to eat it. 

Earlier that morning, Madam Liu had packed the remaining three pancakes for the two siblings to bring into town. The two of them had ripped off pieces of one of them to put in the soup, so there was still another whole pancake on the table. When Xiaocao saw this, she hastily said, “We still have one more left. Older uncle, if you’re okay with it, then take it to give to the little brother to eat.” 

“How could I possibly do that? You two siblings won’t have enough to eat then!” The breakfast seller smiled awkwardly at the sister-brother pair as he quietly coaxed the little boy. 

“It’s not a problem. We had already eaten breakfast before we came here and just wanted to drink some hot soup to warm up our bodies.” Xiaocao had seen that the little boy couldn’t be calmed down. He had cried until a trail of mucus flowed down his nose, and his continued sobs produced tiny bubbles in it. She and her younger brother had eaten one pancake and drank a bowl of soup. That was enough to quiet their stomachs, and when they got home in the evening there would be supper to eat. Thus, she offered her remaining pancake to them.

The food stall owner thought for a bit and then said, “Then I thank you. The soup that you two drank is free. Take it as a sign of my gratitude.” 

A bowl of soup cost one copper coin. Every penny saved was a penny earned. After Yu Xiaocao thanked the stall owner, she left the food market with her brother. They went to a spot outside the town gates where Uncle Ma was waiting for them. His donkey cart was already full of people, and they were just waiting for the two of them.   

If Madam Liu found out that they had spent thirty copper coins on seasonings and condiments, she would definitely start lecturing them. They almost didn’t have anything to eat at home, why would they buy seasonings?

When they got home, Xiaocao pushed the gate open and carefully poked her head in to look. Xiaolian was in the middle of the courtyard doing embroidery. When she saw Xiaocao’s sneaky movements, she burst out in giggles and said, “Xiaocao, what shameful thing did you do? Relax, Mother isn’t at home right now!” 

After hearing that, Xiaocao entered the courtyard with relief. She smirked, “Who did something shameful? I just bought some condiments in town and was afraid that Mother would lecture me for spending money recklessly… Here, this is the money that was leftover after selling your embroidery.” 

“I told you earlier that you could spend the remaining money on whatever you wanted. How could buying seasonings be considered reckless spending?” Xiaolian casually took the money pouch and felt its weight. Surprised, she said, “How much seasoning did you buy? It doesn’t feel like you used too much money.”

Her five embroidered pouches had previously been sold for a total of seventy-five copper coins. However, the leftover money in the pouch that Xiaocao given her had five coins more than the usual seventy-five, and she could feel the difference. 

Xiaocao explained to her sister that the owner of the embroidery shop had given her a better price for the pouches, and then said, “Xiaolian, please don’t tell Mother that I bought these condiments. I have something I need them for!”

 “What can’t you tell your mother?” Yu Hai limped out of the room and grinned at his two adorable daughters. His leg had healed to the point where he didn’t need to use crutches to walk anymore. 

“Nothing, nothing! Father, do you know how to make this type of bamboo tube? When you have time, can you help me make two? I still need to return what I borrowed to someone!” Xiaocao deliberately changed the subject and handed over the bamboo tube that held the soy sauce to her father. 

“This type of tube is one of the easiest bamboo utensils to make, it won’t be hard for me.” Yu Hai sniffed at the bamboo container and laughed, “Soy sauce? If we had a catty of fatty, streaky pork right now, we could make a bowl of red braised pork…then we really could eat to our heart’s content!” 

Ever since his biological mother had passed away, Yu Hai had never been able to taste red braised pork again. He cherished the memory of the taste of that dish. 

Xiaocao quickly snatched back the tube of soy sauce from him and emphasized, “I need to use these condiments, so you can’t touch them! Oh right, where did Mother go?” 

“Next door to Auntie Zhou’s place. They had gotten a large order and need to get it done by tomorrow, so they asked our mother for help in killing the chickens.” Xiaolian took the proffered condiments from her sister and put them in a hidden nook in the kitchen.  

Yu Hai called out towards Little Shitou, “Son, come with Father to help cover the vegetable fields with their blankets…our seedlings are growing quite well. After only five days, they’ve already sprouted to a height of a couple of centimeters. I have never seen vegetables grow this fast, even in previous years when the spring was warmer than this…”

Of course they grew quickly. She had watered them every day with the mystic-stone water. Xiaocao rubbed her nose somewhat uneasily and said, “I’m going to visit Auntie Zhou’s house and see if they need any help.” With that said, she escaped as quickly as a wisp of smoke.

Madam Fang had gone into town earlier today to sell her chickens and eggs. In town, she found out that Lord Huang’s father was going to have his sixtieth birthday celebration and needed around thirty chickens for the banquet. The steward in charge of buying food had made an order of forty chickens and had asked her to get them all prepared today so they could be sent to the residence the next day. 

She had rushed back home after receiving the order. There were not enough people at home to help kill, pluck, and clean all of the forty chickens in one afternoon. Additionally, her husband wasn’t home. Madam Fang was afraid that her three children and herself would end up ruining this large order, so she asked Madam Liu to help.

When Xiaocao got there, Zhou Linglong and her sister were in the kitchen boiling water. Madam Fang was holding a cleaver and about to kill a chicken. There were five or six roosters lying on the ground with their legs bound up. Her mother, Madam Liu, was next to a large wooden basin and was pouring hot water from a pail into it. Inside the basin were three slaughtered chickens that still had their feathers on.  

“Mother, Auntie Zhou, I came over to help!” Xiaocao casually greeted them and frowned when she saw there was a bunch of chicken blood on the ground. 

Madam Fang picked up a chicken whose legs were bound and plucked off some feathers from its neck. Just as the knife was about to flash down, she heard a voice and looked over with a smile, “You got back, Xiaocao? If I had known earlier you were also going into town, we could have gone together. Did you have a good time shopping in town?”

“Auntie Zhou, do you not want any of the chicken blood leftover from  killing chickens?” Xiaocao irrelevantly answered and regarded the dirt soaked with chicken blood with slight regret.

Madam Fang hesitated in confusion and said, ”Why would anyone want chicken blood? It’s not even tasty!” 

Yu Xiaocao blinked and replied, “You can eat chicken blood! If it’s made well, there’s not an odd smell or taste either. You need to eat blood to enrich blood, so chicken blood is very good at this. It can also relieve rheumatic pains, improve blood circulation, and open things up!” 

“Uh....I have never heard of chicken blood having all of those properties. Who did you learn this from, Xiaocao?” The knife in Madam Fang’s hand wavered as she didn’t know whether she should cut off the chicken’s head at the moment or not.  

Yu Xiaocao rushed into the kitchen and asked Zhou Shanhu to grab her a basin. She placed it in front of Madam Fang and said, “Auntie Zhou, listen to me! If chicken blood is cooked correctly, it’ll have a tender texture and be very delicious. You can use it together with tofu to make a soup, and it could also be stewed with cabbage. If it’s stewed in a sauce, it’ll be soft and smooth, and be extremely delicious!”  “This child, you describe it so well that the saliva has almost come dripping out of my mouth. Okay, all of the chicken blood will be yours. When you finish cooking it, don’t forget to bring your Auntie Zhou a bowl...” Madam Fang nimbly wielded the knife to cut the chicken’s neck open. The scarlet blood gurgled down into the basin.

Xiaocao felt as if she could see a host of culinary delights floating in front of her. She gluttonously wished that she could grab the chicken blood and start cooking now. Two months had passed since the New Year celebrations. They couldn’t even eat their fill of coarse grains, let alone get a taste of meat or fish. Living life like this had caused her cravings to go out of control! 

“What are you just standing there for? Didn’t you come over to help? Go back home and grab the basin we used to wash vegetables in. We can pluck the feathers off faster this way!” Madam Liu said in an indulgent yet slightly scolding tone of voice as she smiled at her daughter  “Okay!” Yu Xiaocao assented and bolted out. 

Madam Fang looked at her cheerful steps as her figure got smaller in the distance and smiled, “Younger Sister Muyun, your family’s luck must have changed. Just look, ever since you guys moved out, your husband’s leg has healed, Xiaocao’s body is healthy, and you haven’t gotten sick again. You should relax a bit. In the future, your family will definitely do better and better. When some chicks hatch in spring, go grab a few and bring them home to raise. They can lay some eggs and nourish your children’s bodies. You and your children have such thin bodies, ah…” 

Madam Liu raised her head to gently smile at the other woman. After moving out, her smile appeared more frequently. She held in her laugh as her hands continued to pluck the chicken with practiced ease. Steam rose from the wooden basin and there was a slightly fishy smell in the air…

When Xiaocao had gotten back, she saw Madam Liu opening up the chicken’s belly, pulling out the internal organs, and throwing them aside on the ground. She tentatively asked, “Are these all going to be thrown away?”  Madam Liu shot her a glance and teased, “Do you really want to eat something so dirty and smelly? There’s chicken poop in them. If you make it, you’ll be the only one eating them. Okay, stop goofing off and go help me get the chickens that your Auntie Zhou slaughtered. I need to scald them, and you can be in charge of plucking the feathers!”

“Xiaocao, work carefully! If you do well, Auntie will give you ten copper coins as payment…” Madam Fang could tell that Xiaocao was a practiced hand at this work and made her a promise.  

Madam Liu interjected heavily, “We’re all fellow villagers and neighbors. There’s no need to give us money for helping you! Also, she’s a little child, how much help can she be…”

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Translator: Sanguine