Gaoshun brought over a recipe the next day.
“This is a write-down of the chef’s dish. The employees had testified that the outline of the dish that was served to the proprietor is in here. The chef also said that was what they prepared.” Gaoshun flipped open the notebook and laid it on the table for her to see. It detailed the directions on how to cook the namasu that used scalded fish.
Maomao looked over it, stroking her chin.
You combine scalded fish with finely sliced vegetables and dress it with vinegar. It wasn’t a particularly strange dish, though it noted a somewhat peculiar combination in the preparation of the vinegar.
There were several kinds of vinegar combinations noted – it should be for the change in flavours according to the season and obtainable ingredients. The ingredients, types of fish and vegetables were not written in detail.
Hmm, Maomao stroked her chin. “You won’t know what they essentially used with this.”
“That would be the case,” he replied.
Maomao was looking over it, her head tilted, when an unamused Jinshi came in from her side. He had some longan meat in hands and were splitting and eating it. There were some black, dry thing inside it.
Longan is a small lychee-like fruit that is harvested in summer. The dehydrated version is called keienniku(桂円肉, Keien meat. 桂円 is just another name for Longan. I suppose it tastes a little like osmanthus (桂) and has a circular (円) shape?), and is used in herbal medicine.
“Do you not know?” Looking like he was itching to do something, Jinshi propped his elbows on the table and stared into Maomao’s face.
Gaoshun looked at him with furrowed brows, but the warning itself wasn’t good enough.
(You have to hammer it home.)
Maomao was giving the misbehaving Jinshi an icy look, when a hand stretched out, gently taking the longans from Jinshi’s hands.
“Misbehaving children don’t get snacks.” Fufufu, Suiren stood behind Jinshi with a bright smile. What is it, this atmosphere. Maomao couldn’t tear her eyes away from the dark clouds that hung over that woman’s back.
“I get it.” Jinshi lowered his brows in displeasure, lifted his elbows. And when he corrected his posture, his old housekeeper nodded, “Good,” as she returned the longan back into Jinshi’s hand.
I thought the nanny just spoiled him, but it turns out there is a strict side for proper etiquette to her huh, Maomao thought.
The discussions had deviated somewhat, but they went back on track.
“The incident occurred really recently, right?” she asked.
“It was about a week ago,” Gaoshun said.
In terms of seasons, it was still cold yet. It is typical to use cucumber in namasu, but they would probably use other root vegetables for this season.
“The ingredients would be something like daikon or carrot, right?” Maomao asked.
Vegetables that can be used in winter are limited. Ingredients had seasonal times – the seasons to eat them are also limited.
“They said they used seaweed for that.”
At Gaoshun’s words, “Ah,” Maomao’s mouth gapped open.
“Seaweed?” Maomao asked again.
“Seaweed,” Gaoshun repeated.
Seaweed is used both as food and as traditional medicine.
It was probably also used as the ingredients for namasu.
Having heard those words, Maomao inadvertently nodded.
(If you say that they prefer delicacies.)
They probably got their hands on some more or less unusual seaweed.
The sides of her lips shifted into a broad grin. Her double tooth was probably peeking out from her parted lips.
At that, Jinshi and the others looked at her in bewilderment.
Squinting in delight, she looked to Gaoshun.
“If that’s okay with you, is it possible to let me see the inside of the kitchen of that house?” Maomao said to Gaoshun, having nothing to lose.
Gaoshun’s arrangement was swift, the plan was that Maomao will enter the kitchen of the aforementioned chef tomorrow. It seems that she could easily enter, with the officials who handled the incident already done looking through it. Normally it was like that, the one who was called Gaoshun’s acquaintance should have looked around over-attentively.
The estate was situated in the north-west of the city. All surrounding houses that lined up were altogether magnificent. The north-side of the city with the imperial court that was mainly resided by high ranked bureaucrats would be something like this.
Since the lady of the estate was asleep, fatigued and having lost weight, it was a manservant who let them in instead. They already got permission from the lady so it shouldn’t be a problem.
(A manservant huh.)
Finding that strange, Maomao headed for that place.
Her companion was an official that was arranged by Gaoshun. He had been staring at Maomao doubtfully this whole time. Though he didn’t seem to have come willingly, he looked like the type to follow Gaoshun’s order, so there weren’t any issues at present. He was probably a military official. His body, still young, wasn’t perfectly built, but he moved sleekly with his whole body. He looks like someone, she suddenly thought.
Maomao assumed that he didn’t really think to get along with her, so she thought that was fine.
Luckily, as poison had been used to make food, the kitchen hasn’t been used since that incident.
It was when Maomao plod into the kitchen.
“What the hell are you doing!” A man dashed towards Maomao, his eyes raised. Wearing high-class clothes, a man in his thirties.
“Don’t just enter the kitchen, get the f*ck out! You! You dare bring in this kind of guys!” The man grabbed the collar of the manservant who had guided them in.
Maomao was looking with narrowed eyes, and her accompanying official took a step forward.
“We properly got the lady’s approval. Besides, this is our job.”
Maomao sent a round of applause to the official who replied coolly to the violent man.
“Is that true?” The man loosened his grip on the collar.
As he coughed and spluttered, the manservant verified their claims.
“Can we come in? Or are there any inconvenience?”
At the official’s words, though the man had clicked his tongue, “Suit yourself,” he spat out.
It seems that the lady of the official who had fallen into a coma was forced to bed. The estate was now managed by that official’s younger brother. It seems to be the man from before.
Maomao surveyed the inside of the kitchen.
The cookware, as expected, seemed to have been cleaned and put away nicely by the chef, but aside from easily spoiled perishables like fish, the ingredients had been left as it is.
Maomao searched out the inside of the kitchen.
And the thing she was looking for was easily found on the shelves.
When she saw the small bottle of salt pickles, Maomao smiled smugly.
“What is this?” Maomao asked the pale looking manservant. The manservant squinted his eyes at the inside of the container. His face said he had no idea, so she took a handful and put it in a water jug for him to see.
“How about this?”
“Ahh. That’s what the master likes to eat.” The manservant told her that there’s no way that would be poison since he always ate it. The lady seemed to have faith in him, she didn’t think he would be lying.
“And that’s how it is. Quickly leave.” The man said, desperately annoyed. He kept an eye on the bottle in Maomao’s hands.
“I suppose so.” Maomao returned the bottle to the original place. A handful, she hid inside her sleeves.
“I’m sorry to have troubled you.” Maomao, saying that, left the kitchen. Still, the gaze piercing at her back didn’t disappear for a while.
“Why did you withdraw so easily?” The young military official asked Maomao in the horse carriage on the way back.
“I don’t think I withdrew.” She took out the salt covered seaweed from her sleeves and wrapped it in a hand-towel. Her sleeves that were covered in salt were gross, but the military official could get angry if she brushed it off here in front of him. “This is strange. It’s still a little too early to harvest this seaweed, but still, even if it is pickled in salt, it is not the something you can get until in this season.”
It was quite an out of season ingredient.
“That’s why I thought it wasn’t something harvested from around here. For example, it could be like something that was procured from the south through trade,” she said.
The military official’s eyes widened at Maomao’s words. It seems like he understood what he should do – he won’t need a detailed explanation.
What happens after was only something that Maomao could do.
The next day, the kitchen that she got permission to use from Gaoshun was prepared for her. It was the office of an official who was in the imperial court, seems like he* could stay over at night.
Maomao prepared the thing she arranged last night in this room.
Although she called it prepared, it wasn’t something significant. She was only serving something that was put in water to remove the salt.
It was a simple work, but being the circumstance, she thought she didn’t have to use the kitchen in Jinshi’s building and was prepared another one.
And now, there were two dishes were in front of Maomao. They were the seaweed she sneaked off with yesterday washed in water and portioned into two. It was a vivid green.
Standing in front of Maomao was the official who consulted Gaoshun about the incident, the military official who guided Maomao yesterday, and for some reason, Jinshi. Suiren will be angry again for misbehaving if you’re here because of curiosity, Maomao thought.
“When I investigated, it was as you said,” The young military official said flippantly. The seaweed from yesterday was brought in by a merchant from the south. “After that, I asked the manservant again. He said that, now that I mentioned it, that seaweed wasn’t eaten in winter. I also asked the other employees and they generally gave the same answer.”
Amid that, the one shaking his head was the official who had consulted about the incident.
“I already heard from the chef about this seaweed. As it was the same variety of seaweed that is usually used, I was told it shouldn’t be poisonous.”
Maomao endorsed that. It was the same variety of seaweed.
But if there was a point that was different.
“That doesn’t mean that it is not poisonous,” Maomao said as she picked up the seaweed from the dish with chopsticks. “Perhaps, there isn’t really a custom to eat this seaweed in the south, what about that? From what the employees of this time’s gourmet said, what if a merchant thought they could make money off that and specially got the locals to make salt pickle?
“How does that become an issue?”
The one who asked was Jinshi. Maybe it was for the people here today, the strangely exhausting atmosphere she saw recently wasn’t there. Gaoshun aside, the two officials close by were looking at the beautiful eunuch somewhat uncomfortably.
Maomao said as she playfully fiddled with her chopsticks. “There are times where poison can become non-poisonous.”
The means to do that were varied. Eel blood is naturally poisonous, but if the blood is drained and heated, the eel can be eaten. In this case, Maomao was sure she recalled that lime(Calcium hydroxide) was required.
And, in the two dishes that Maomao portioned, one had used lime and the other didn’t. The one she was picked up with her chopsticks was what she pickled in the lime she prepared last night.
Maomao popped it in her mouth. Everyone fell into a fluster, drawing closer as to ask what she was doing.
“It’s fine. Probably,” she said.
Actually, this was only something she heard as knowledge. It happened that she didn’t really know if just pickling over one night will be enough to neutralise the poison.
This too was an important experiment.
“What do you mean by probably!”
“Be at ease. I have vomit-inducing medicine right here.” She took out from her bosom the medicine she had decocted with bravado.
“Don’t it say it so confidently!”
In the end, she was held down by Gaoshun from the back and forcibly made to eat the vomit-inducing medicine by Jinshi. Thanks to that, she vomited noisily in front of the four gentlemen.
They must be wondering what they were doing to the unmarried girl.
By the way, the vomit-inducing medicine made you vomit from its disgusting taste. So, it was extremely disgusting.
After having recovered her senses, Maomao said. “This would be the problem, but who was it who suggested to the traders to bring in salt pickled seaweed?”
Specially ordering it from an area where they don’t eat it, what a way to do things.
“The person who fell into a coma was just paying for his own mistakes,” she added.
But, if that was wrong.
And if it happens that they knew about the possibility of it becoming poison.
(This is just a guess to the end.)
The possibility of getting struck with a clue from the incident from ten years ago certainly exists.
The people here were clever. She didn’t need to say anymore and had no intention of doing so. Maomao was a small human(Someone with low social status. An insignificant person.). She did not want to deeply consider going along with whoever’s sins.
“I understand.” Gaoshun, looking like he understood what Maomao wanted to say, nodded slowly.
Maomao let out a sigh of relief and picked up the seaweed that was before her and ate it. This time it was from the other dish.
And, once again, she ended up being forced by the pale-faced Jinshi and the others to vomit it back up again.