Every day Butcher Wang slaughtered a pig. Half of the pig meat went to the restaurants in the area, and the other half was sold at his store. By the time the day ended, most of the other half of meat had been bought out.
As usual, Xiaocao spent six copper coins to buy a pig head. For the tripe and intestines, she persisted on giving him four copper coins for them. As for the pig’s blood, Butcher Wang insisted on giving it to her for free.
After lightly rubbing at the silver pieces in the purse that Brother Six had given her, she also bought two catties of pork belly and a large pork bone. Butcher Wang looked at her in surprise and said, “You’re buying a lot of meat today. Are you guys having guests over?”
Xiaocao didn’t bother explaining and only smiled, “Mhm, I need to take care of a visitor who has some status, so I need to get some stuff to make the table more presentable!”
The bought ingredients were placed in the wheelbarrow that Yu Hai was pushing. She then led them into a shop in town that sold rice and other grains. As they entered the store, they could hear people making a racket. The sounds of the scolding voice of an adult and the wailing of child blended together into a cacophony.
Xiaocao stood at the entrance, listening for a bit. Apparently, the child of the family that ran the store was naughty and accidentally spilled water on a bag of glutinous rice. Although the store’s manager did his best to save the rice, over ten catties of rice had been soaked by the water. Everyone knew that rice that had been soaked in water was no good. Even after letting it dry, the rice would still crumble into pieces and powder. Thus, over seventeen to eighteen catties of glutinous rice were no longer sellable!
The shopkeeper’s entire family relied on the income from this tiny rice and grain store, and were only barely able to make it from month to month. Suddenly losing seventeen to eighteen catties of glutinous rice meant that they were losing over a hundred copper coins of sales. How could the manager not feel his heart bleed a little? However, on the other hand, he couldn’t bear to hit his child, so he could only give the boy a rough scolding.
“Uncle Shopkeeper, I offer you three copper coins per catty for all of this wet glutinous rice. Are you willing to sell it to me?” Xiaocao suddenly interjected after assessing the situation.
Although the sound of her voice wasn’t very loud, the noise in the store abruptly cut off and it became silent. The shopkeeper looked at her and then glanced at the adult behind her and softly replied, “Little girl, once the rice gets soaked with water, it won’t taste good anymore…”
“Just because it doesn’t taste good doesn’t mean it isn’t edible, right? Shopkeeper Uncle, you can’t sell this rice anymore, how about you just give to me at a cheap price? Xiaocao smiled sweetly.
Just as the owner of the rice shop wanted to say something, his wife pulled on his sleeve and spoke instead, “Little girl, this glutinous rice is usually eight to nine copper coins a catty. If you want all of it, the lowest we can go is five copper coins a catty. Otherwise, we’d be better off leaving it for ourselves to eat!”
The owner of the stall was angry and anxious at the same time. He stared at his wife helplessly in worry. However, his wife glared at him fiercely, and the look in her eyes seemed to say, ‘if you dare to say anything, then I’ll definitely have something to say to you’.
Xiaocao shrugged her shoulders and replied, “If that’s the case, then please keep the rice for yourselves to eat! Father, let’s go to that other rice stall to take a look…”
The shopkeeper hastily threw off his wife’s hand. He rushed forward to block their way and said, “Don’t leave! Three copper coins a catty it is, three copper coins a catty it is! There’s nineteen catties of wet glutinous rice altogether, and I’ll even throw in one catty for free…”
Seeing that the shopkeeper was at least honest and sincere, she gave him fifty-four copper coins and had her father load all of the glutinous rice onto their wheelbarrow. She also asked them how much the wheat flour and regular rice cost, and thought the prices were quite reasonable. So she also bought ten catties of wheat flour and five catties of rice. Thus, she had suddenly spent a hundred and thirty copper coins at the grain store alone.
Luckily, their business had gone pretty well today, and they had earned over two hundred copper coins alone from selling the braised food. If she added the two taels of silver bits that Brother Six gave her, Xiaocao didn’t feel bad about spending so much money.
After they stepped out of the rice and grain store, Xiaocao also went to a general goods shop to replenish a small number of seasonings and condiments for the family. She even reluctantly fished out some money to buy half a catty of white sugar. Now, she had pretty much spent all of the money she had earned from selling braised food. However, when she thought about how all of these seasonings would last her for at least half a month, she immediately felt happier at the thought of all the taels she could earn from them.
Yu Hai didn’t say a single word as he watched his daughter spend money as if it was water. In fact, the money they had earned that morning hadn’t even had a chance to get warmed up in their hands before it all went out. Despite that, not a peep came out of his mouth even when she was buying glutinous rice that had been soaked with water.
On their way, it was Xiaocao who finally asked him why cheerfully, “Father, how come you didn’t stop me when I was buying glutinous rice that had been soaked?”
Yu Hai pushed the wheelbarrow with his daughter in it with a satisfied expression and smiled, “Whatever my Xiaocao buys definitely has its uses. Father knows you’re not a child who spends money recklessly. Then again, even if you couldn’t do anything with the glutinous rice, it still wouldn't go to waste. Even bits and powdery pieces of glutinous rice can be used to make a congee that is more tasty than pancakes made from bean flour!”
Xiaocao grinned, “Thank you Father for trusting me. I really do have a good idea for this rice! Brother Six asked me to help him create a table of dishes for his guest. I want to make something special and unique. I need to help him look good, especially since he saved me from those hooligans. My plan is to make pearl meatballs with them. They’ll be fragrant and tasty, shiny and pure, and will be considered a top notch dish whether you’re judging it for looks or taste. His clients will definitely like them. If you grind the glutinous rice into glutinous rice flour, it can be used to make desserts...also, also, making some pig’s blood glutinous rice cake will also be quite good!”
Seeing his daughter’s extremely thin face lit up with happiness as she talked made Yu Hai feel both happy and proud of his daughter——the daughter they had once thought wouldn’t reach adulthood has actually stepped it up and shouldered a lot of responsibilities for the family!
When they got home, Xiaocao began to draw up the menu and prepare the ingredients for the food. The pearl meatballs needed small steamer baskets. Something as simple as this type of bamboo tool was not hard for Yu Hai to make. He took a drink of water and started to chop some bamboo, following the directions his daughter gave him to make the baskets.
Salted egg yolks were needed to make the pearl meatballs so Xiaocao went to the Qian Family and knocked on their door. Madam Mao came out and when she saw Xiaocao, she asked with surprise, “Xiaocao? Why are you at our place at this time?”
Xiaocao straightforwardly replied, “Auntie Qian, do you have any salted duck eggs? If so, can you sell me a few?”
Ducks generally lay fewer eggs in the winter but they were still hard to sell. The problem was that most people didn't like to eat duck eggs because they had an odd smell. In order to keep them from going bad, Madam Mao used coarse sea salt to pickle the duck eggs. She likely still had some left after eating and selling some of her stock.
“I have some! Xiaocao, how many do you want? However, salted duck eggs are one copper coin each, ok!” Madam Mao’s personality was just this way. She never tempered her words and always said things in a straightforward way. Xiaocao nodded her head. She actually liked this type of personality. If the duck eggs were offered to her for free, she would feel too uncomfortable to take them. She fished out ten copper coins from her embroidered purse and said, “Auntie Qian, please give me ten for now. In the future if I need more, I’ll be sure to come to Auntie’s to buy more.”
Madam Mao took out eleven duck eggs from the jar and placed them in her basket. She smiled and said, “My son, Qian Wu, went to your house again this morning to beg for food. I don’t have anything good in this house, so I’ll just give you an extra duck egg!”
Although Madam Mao didn’t know how to mince her words, she also wasn’t the type of person to take advantage of other people. Qian Wen had eaten two pickled fish earlier that morning which came out to exactly one copper coin. Hence, she gave Xiaocao an extra duck egg.
Xiaocao didn’t refuse the offer and thanked Madam Mao instead. When she got home, she went over the menu in her head again. Brother Six’s client was a northerner who needed to eat meat with every meal and loved to eat spicy foods...Ah, I got it! Earlier that afternoon, she had caught a large fish at the pond, so she could make that into ‘poached sliced fish in hot chili oil’ and the fish head could be used to make ‘fish head with chopped peppers’!
With the pearl meatballs as one of them, right now Xiaocao had three types of good dishes to serve. Were there any other unique foods she could make? Xiaocao racked her mind for ideas...that’s right! Didn’t she buy some pork belly earlier? She remembered that Auntie Zhou had made some sun-dried salted vegetables. If she could borrow some, she could make ‘steamed pork with salted vegetables’!
These four dishes were all non-vegetarian dishes that contained meat, so she needed to come up with a vegetable based dish to pair with them all! But in this season, where would she get some fresh produce? Xiaocao went into the courtyard to look at the green vegetable shoots that had just opened up under the noon sun. Her heart ached at the thought of harming them so early in their cycle. If she really had no other choice, then she would just pick a few of the larger leaves and make a bowl of ‘green vegetables and egg drop soup’.
In a moment she needed to go to the tofu sellers and buy some dried tofu. The plan was to fry it and then marinate it slightly with some of the braising seasoning to successfully make a plate of ‘braised dried tofu’. How about...she should also make a plate of spicy and sour cabbage’ as well. After all, they were limited by what was in season at this time of year.
Suddenly, a different idea flashed into her head. She could make ‘sauteed shredded pork in sweet bean sauce’. This was a dish that she herself had really liked, so it probably meant that they didn’t have it in this era, right? It would definitely taste novel and delicious to the people here. Thus, she decided to eliminate ‘fish head with chopped peppers’’ from the menu.
Four meat dishes, two vegetarian dishes, and one soup should be more than enough for two people if she also added a main starch dish—sweet potato with sweet rice flour cakes!
That afternoon, it was still Xiaolian who went with Shitou to the docks to sell the pickled fish. After Yu Hai finished crafting the bamboo steamer baskets, he took the ‘fish bait’ that Xiaocao had prepared to catch some fish. He had a very important assignment: he needed to catch a fish that weighed at least five catties. The best scenario would be if he could fish up a black carp.
Madam Liu found herself busy with preparing the pig head and intestines that afternoon. They were planning on using those ingredients to make more braised food. When Madam Fang came over to call on them and saw that she had more work than one person could handle, she also rolled up her sleeves to help. They were so busy that the whole household wished they could each grow another pair of arms to finish all that needed to be done.
As for Xiaocao’s mission? That was to nap that afternoon as she needed to wake up very early tomorrow to prepare the food for her client.
Surely enough, before the sun came out the next morning, Xiaocao automatically woke up. When she got up from bed, she noticed Madam Liu was extremely busy in the kitchen making breakfast. Madam Liu had wanted to make sure that both her husband and daughter got to eat their fill before they left for the day.
The filling of the pearl meatballs was made of ground meat. Luckily, they didn’t need a lot of ground meat, so Madam Liu was able to ‘chop chop chop’ a few times with a cleaver and the amount they needed was done. Xiaocao seasoned the finely chopped meat and then formed each meatball using some ground meat and half a duck egg’s yolk. After forming them, she then rolled each meatball into the glutinous rice and then steamed all of them for about half an hour.
The poached sliced fish in hot chili oil was slightly more complicated to make, and it was also best eaten while hot and steaming. Xiaocao decided to bring the small clay stoves that they had used to concoct her father’s medications with them to town. When the moment came, they could use a couple pieces of charcoal and have the dish sit on top of the stove. Being able to eat hot and spicy poached fish with the slightly cold sea-breeze around them would definitely add to the atmosphere!
With six dishes, one soup, and a staple food to make, Xiaocao and her mother spent almost two hours getting everything ready. Similar to yesterday, Yu Hai pushed the wheelbarrow to town today. The cart held both the braised food they planned to sell today as well as the table of food that Brother Six had reserved.
On the way there, Xiaocao also sat in the wheelbarrow, holding two baskets that held the soup. This was to prevent the soup from spilling out along the way and ruining all of her morning’s work!
When they got to the wharf, Brother Six was already there waiting for them. The place he had reserved for entertaining his guest was the area’s best building—The Lin Family’s Restaurant. Although it was considered the best, in reality it was only three-room building constructed of mud bricks with a tiled roof. Brother Six had reserved the only private room in the restaurant and especially hired Xiaocao bring in the table of food. From this, one could tell that he really regarded this person as an important client.
The customer that Brother Six was inviting over was a steward from Prince Jing’s Estate. Imperial Prince Jing was in charge of the vast majority of the country’s sea trade. This time, he was managing the transport grain from the south to the north.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s thoughts: I started drooling while translating this chapter. Now I really want to eat some ‘poached sliced fish in hot chili oil’, ‘pearl meatballs’, and ‘spicy and sour cabbage’. Sob sob, Xiaocao, why do you torture me?