Miao Cui Lan could not help but furrow her eyebrows and chastised, “That’s quite a remote area. Why were you there alone?”
“It’s our forest, and I’m quite familiar with it.” Lu Xiao Shu grinned and helpfully skipped towards her mother, “ Mother, let me help you with that. Are there any big cabbages left in the garden?”
“There are. Xiao Xue is still in the garden. You should go over there.” Miao Cui Lan nodded.
“Okay!” Lu Xiao Shu replied with a grin as she went there.
All those cabbages had green leaves grown out all around them, but the roots underground and the large stems were perfect for pickling.
Every year around April or May, Miao Cui Lan would clear out a piece of land purposely for planting those.
When Autumn arrived, they chose a nice day to harvest all the cabbages and trim off the roots that had dirt clinging to it. They would cut the cabbage into quarters vertically and arrange them out under the sun to be dried.
After two days of drying, the vegetable leaves had half wilted. The family would bring the vegetables home and wash them thoroughly before rubbing coarse salt onto them. After which, the vegetables would be bundled up and twisted to fit into a mason jar which would then be sealed.
Once a month or two had passed, the pickled vegetables were ready to be opened and eaten as a snack. The pickled vegetables would be cut up into small pieces and lathered with oil, sesame and chili sauce, and then be used to stir-fry a dish of spicy cabbages. It could also be stir-fried with fresh pork or any meat, which was a very typical home cooked dish during the winters.
Miao Cui Lan was especially good at making them. There was once during winter when they were selling dried beancurd and beancurd skin, they also tried selling half a basket of the pickled cabbages. Unexpectedly, it sold out and people came asking if there was more. That was why Miao Cui Lan decided to make more this year.
“Xiao Xue!” Lu Xiao Shu arrived at the garden and found her sister in plain clothing, bending over to separate the cabbages that were growing everywhere in the garden so that they could all get some sunlight. She greeted her sister and went over to give her a hand.
“You’re back! I thought you were coming home with Lu Qi. Isn’t Lu Qi coming home yet?” Xiao Xue commented as she glanced over her shoulder.
Lu Xiao Shu found it random, “Why would you say that I would come home with him?”
Xiao Shu blinked her eyes in confusion, “Why? I saw Cricket—”
“Xiao Xue!” Lu Xiao Shu was so shocked that she put her hand over Xiao Xue’s mouth to stop her from speaking as she begged, “My good sister, Lu Qi doesn’t know that I was out! Please don’t tell him what you saw today!”
“This—” Xiao Xue was startled. She never really liked going out to play, and she preferred to stay home to accompany her auntie and little cousin. She would chat with them, do embroidery, read, or write. How would she know anything that had happened between Lu Xiao Shu and Lu Qi?
Lu Xiao Shu knew that her sister had always loved her. So she begged her coquettishly, “Xiao Xue, just promise me not to tell. Would you do that for me, pretty please? I’ll find you a nice floral pattern or a better poetry book collection for you next time, okay?”
Xiao Xue chuckled and sighed, clearly annoyed. “What do you want me to say? What are both of you up to this time?”
“You’re the best! Hehe!” Lu Xiao Shu knew that her sister had given in to her. She smiled and patted her sister’s shoulder and the sisters laughed while exchanging glances.
“What are you both up to?” Miao Cui Lan entered the garden.
“Nothing! It’s nothing! I was just talking to my sister.” Lu Xiao Shu grinned. Then, the mother and daughters started to get to work, moving all the cabbages that were done being under the sun to the courtyard.
On the next day, Miao Cui Lan told Lu Xiao Shu, “I remember that you told me that the grapes were ripe. Go tell Mr Wu about it and see if we can harvest them since we’re free these couple of days and there’s nothing much to do. Once your father is back, we’ll get to work!”
Lu Zhong was away in the neighboring town, buying soybeans. He would not be home for the entire day.
Lu Xiao Shu agreed since she had to send in a painting to Mr Wu as homework, so she could tell him about it while she was at it.
Mr Wu smiled, “If you didn’t tell me, I would’ve forgotten about it completely! Yes, I think the weather is great these few days. We could go take a look tomorrow.”
Lu Xiao Shu grinned, “Sir, you should come over for breakfast tomorrow morning first!”
Mr Wu nodded with a smile.
On the next day, once he had given his students homework for the day, he asked the older and more matured students to watch over the younger ones. Then, he pondered about the wine this year.
This year, the weather was good for the crops. The grapes surely must have grown nicely. Mr Wu could already imagine the delicious red wine as he unconsciously smacked his lips.
After they had their breakfast, the family carried a basket and headed to the forest, leaving only Tong Yu Er and Jin Er at home. Even Xiao Xue was dragged along.
The Lu Family’s forest had various huge trees including the red maple tress, camphor trees, oak trees, pine trees, etc. There were also many different smaller trees, shrubs, vines, wild flowers and plants.
In the era now, the environment was still being nicely cared for. The forests on the mountain were blooming with life including wild beasts which live in the mountains. That was what made the place very dangerous and only very rarely would anyone dare to venture into the mountains alone. However, it was a place huge enough that every household in Feng Ye Village could claim a piece of the forest even after development was completed.
Some families continued chopping down trees for wood to sell, while some kept the land for their future generations so that they could also go scavenging for herbs and mushrooms, or hunt for smaller creatures and pick wild fruits. Besides, it would still be more than enough firewood from the forest for everyone in the village.
Even before they came along, the forest already had many grapes. It was because later on, Mr Wu wanted to make wine, so Lu Zhong purposely dug up some wild grape roots and brought it over for them to be planted. There was no need to put up any frames as they could grow around trees. When they got ripe, there would be heaps of them.
Miao Cui Lan was very familiar with the forest they owned. She was the one with the sickle, making a path by chopping off branches and plants in their way. Behind her, Nanny Xu was leading the sisters, Mr Wu, and Miao Chu He.
Soon, the little convoy arrived at a mountain col. What they found was a thick layer of fallen leaves and bare branches above them.
“This is the place! Ha! The grapes really are quite a lot this year!” Miao Cui Lan looked up and surveyed.
As everyone shifted their gaze in that direction to find the dense branches covered in grapevines. Clusters of grapes of different sizes hung from everywhere. The grapes were only the size of a pinky finger. They were dark and shiny, looking like a tight bundle as they were strewn together.
“Haha! You’re right! Next year’s wine will be marvellous!” Mr Wu grinned enthusiastically.
Miao Chu He chuckled, “Sir, you truly are amazing! Where did you even find a recipe for it? Those of us who are scholars only know how to study and nothing else. We’re nothing compared to you!”
“Gosh! I’m not smart enough to become a Juren! Look at you! Are you complimenting me or hurting my pride?” Mr Wu joked and exchanged glances with Miao Chu He who chortled.
Miao Cui Lan smiled, “I don’t believe any bit that Mr Wu had said. You’re so knowledgeable, there’s no way you can’t become a Juren. It’s only because you didn’t want to take the exams!”
Mr Wu gently smiled, but he shook his head.
Miao Cui Lan did not push the subject any further. She merely turned around to warn the sisters, “You both should stand aside in case the branches or grapes fall on you.”
“Come on, follow me!” Nanny Xu dragged them aside.
Miao Cui Lan was wearing brown shorts as she slung a basket over her shoulder and started climbing the tree. Mr Wu followed what she did, climbing up another tree trunk. He was not as agile or brave as Miao Cui Lan, so he only chose a shorter and sturdier tree to climb.
Nanny Xu and Miao Chu He were helping them from below.
Once they collected a basket full of grapes, they would lower the basket down using a rope. Down below, the two would carefully transfer all of the grapes into a bigger basket, sending the empty smaller basket back up for them to continue harvesting.
“Come here. You girls should try this. The grapes are delicious! It makes me happy just by looking at them!” Nanny Xu grinned widely as she called for Lu Xiao Shu and Xiao Xue.
Xiao Xue produced a clean white handkerchief and wiped the grapes carefully. She wiped off that thin white layer that was on the surface of the grapes before slapping her sister’s hand which was just about to pop some grapes into her mouth. She passed her the clean grapes and said, “Xiao Shu, you should eat this instead.”
Lu Xiao Shu stuck her tongue out and dropped the bunch of grapes and accepted the ones that her sister passed to her. She chimed, “My sister loves me the most!” As she said, she popped a grape into her sister’s mouth and asked, “Is it sweet?”
Xiao Xue nodded happily, “Yup! It’s very sweet!”
Nanny Xu watched them and laughed, “The big sister really adores her little sister. What a lovely pair!”
Lu Xiao Shu giggled, “ Of course! My sister has adored me since I was little!”
Xiao Xue pursed her lips, “You keep making everyone worried about you especially because you’re so naughty!”
“Xiao Xue is so sensible!” Nanny Xu praised with a smile.
Lu Xiao Shu made a face at them and looked up to glance at Miao Cui Lan. She dragged Xiao Xue, “Xiao Xue! Let’s go over there and play, okay? I see a lot of edible fungus on that dead tree. Let’s go collect them!”
Xiao Xue was hesitant, but she was also worried that her sister would cause trouble if she went there alone. As such, she had no choice but to nod and agree, “Okay, but remember to be careful so you don’t fall!”
“Don’t worry, Big Sis.” Xiao Shu grinned and picked up a basket, dragging her sister away from the group.
The forest was gloomy and damp. As long as it’s not a cold freezing winter day, there would be various mushrooms and fungus popping up around everywhere.
It did not take the sisters long to reach a half rotten tree trunk which was probably as tall as one-and-a-half person lying on the ground. As expected, it was full of many different black fungus lined up together in a tight knit.
“Oh my gosh! There’s so many of them!” Xiao Xue was shocked and gleeful.
Lu Xiao Shu grinned, “See, I told you so! I would never lie to you.”
It would be fine if she did not say that, but once she did, Xiao Xue shot her a look and pursed her lips. Her beautiful narrow eyes glistened knowingly. It was obvious what that sentence was implying: Yet another lie!
Lu Xiao Shu could not help feeling upset because she knew that her sister was very clever. She might be able to bluff her smart mother sometimes, but she could never trick her beautiful sister. It was just that her sister had always doted on her. Even if she was causing trouble, her sister had never gotten her busted.
“Xiao Shu, why don’t we pick these and bring them back? They’ll taste delicious if we use them to make dumplings or stir-fry chicken!” Lu Xiao Shu drawled with a smile.
Synopsis: The online game <