A consort became an empress. Officially, Empress Gyokuyou was already the legal wife, but apparently, it was important to overtly show that to everyone.
In war, the damages wouldn’t be little the greater there is an overwhelming difference in power. If a consort of the same ranking were to give birth to a son at the same time, it would rain blood. The reason Gyokuyou became the legal wife, the empress, was because she had given birth before Consort Rifa.
Consort Rifa’s lineage was suitable for her to be empress. However, there was a reason where she couldn’t become the legal wife on the occasion she were to give birth to a son.
(That there’s no way of knowing if her child will live long, and, in a certain meaning, the issue with her lineage.)
The emperor had deigned to avoid consanguineous marriages. In the era of the previous emperor, there was the consideration that the bloodline, weakened from repeated consanguineous marriages, had quickly died off from contagious diseases.
Consort Rifa being unable to become the mother of the nation while possessing the qualifications was unrelated to her character.
And if there was one other thing.
There was a need to get into the good graces of the Empress Gyokuyou’s clan for their relation with foreign countries hereafter.
In any case, currently, Empress Gyokuyou was a person above the clouds who was close to the summit. The people who will be meeting her for the first time would probably wither, and in fact, they had withered.
“Fufufufu. Have you been taken in by the dim sum?”
The owner of the graceful voice Maomao was hearing for the first time a long while had prepared pastries that were mild in sweetness. The one acting as a waitress was a skilled maid, or so she appeared, the gossip-lover with eyes that glittered, Infa. The obliging and cheerful maid that she hadn’t met in a little over half a year was receiving them as usual. Unfortunately, the head maid Honnyan, who was close by, also had shining eyes, but she couldn’t call out to her, as the head maid had soon went away even when tasked as the minder.
(Can I take one?)
Unlike Maomao who had that such composure, Yao, who sitting beside her, was frozen stiff. En’en was pokerfaced, so it was difficult to know, but since she was glancing over to Yao, she was probably more or less concerned.
When they got used to giving doctor’s visits to the consorts in the inner palace, Maomao and the others were finally able to come along for Empress Gyokuyou’s visit.
Empress Gyokuyou must have been waiting for this moment. To the extent of specifically recommending Maomao to take the exam to become a court physician assisting court lady. And no doubt considering that if Maomao were to come, there would be time for the amusement that she had so little of, and currently, they were holding something that resembled a tea party.
“Ah, umm, where is Court Physician Kan?” Yao asked Infa.
Court Physician Kan meant her dad.
“Yes, he is currently giving the crown prince a check-up. While he’s at it, he will also be checking up on Rinrii-sama and the maids. You have nothing to do, so Gyokuyou-sama said to enjoy some tea.”
Honnyan probably went out to observe the situation.
Imperial Princess Rinrii had gotten quite big. The toddling child had raced out to observe the guests the moment they arrived at the palace. Her tomboyish part apparently resembled Empress Gyokuyou. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like she remembered Maomao, but it looked like she saw every guest as her playmate so she had been trailing after them the whole time. Along the way, Honnyan sent her back and she left regrettably.
(It must be face.)
The Empress Gyokuyou, who was sitting right in front of them, had glittering eyes. It was as if she couldn’t help it that she wanted to hear something interesting.
(I don’t have anything of the sort.)
Infa also sat down cheekily. “Hey, I want to hear some interesting stories once in a while, do you have some?”
(You’re asking for too much!)
If she was telling an interesting story on the spot, Maomao probably couldn’t be called a tongue-tied person. However, unfortunately, she didn’t have that much of a glib tongue.
However, an unexpected person raised their hand. Speaking of who, it was En’en.
“I don’t know if you would like it, though,” she said.
“Oh my, really?”
“It’s something about an incident from a long time ago, would that be okay?”
“Oh my, I’m looking forward to it.” Empress Gyokuyou was immensely curious.
En’en suddenly shifted from her usual quietness and began her tale.
A long time ago, in a certain place, there was a cooking showdown. The chefs had, along with their pride, wagered for the position of head chef for a certain estate.
One was a chef who lived in the area since a long time ago, and the other was a chef who had come in from a faraway place.
The dishes was the master’s favourite egg dish and tangyuan(湯圓, glutinous rice balls in a sweet soup). Both chefs had confidence in their own skills. And so, even with the plain theme, they devoted themselves squarely into the dishes.
Both dishes should have been something that could be deemed as evenly matched. However, one chef, the chef from far away, was unable to do it properly. There was no way he could bring out something this terrible for the egg dish; it really wasn’t something that one should be serving to the owner of the estate at all.
At least, he only served the tangyuan, but the owner, having eaten that, was enraged and said to put the chef to death.
The chef didn’t understand the meaning of this at all. With the ingredients too, he had only made use what had already been prepared, and the ingredients he used were also the same as the other chef.
Why was there a difference to the dishes?
(Rather than an interesting story…)
It sounded like a riddle to Maomao.
She understood that by seeing the probing atmosphere from En’en.
“Do you know why he failed with his dishes?” The court lady glanced at Maomao. She could pretty much recall this flow.
“Could it be that he failed by cooking normally?” It was Infa who said that. “You said that the chef was still young, right?”
“Yeah, but he was first class as a chef, which was exactly why he was called over from far away,” En’en added. Her master Yao was sitting quietly. She was watching with a meek expression as she swirled her tea.
(Even though it wasn’t that terrible to fail a dish and not serving it.)
If it was said that it was clearly bad even after eating the tangyuan, could it be terrible to the extent of confusing between salt and sugar?
It probably wasn’t that either. If she were to think about it.
“I have several questions.” Maomao raised a hand.
“What is it?”
“What kind of water does the owner drink in that place?”
“Isn’t water the same wherever you go?”
At Infa’s answer, En’en shook her head in place of Maomao.
“That place placed importance in fresh water, so it is common to serve salted water outside of drinking water. The water is safe from the start, and produces rock salt, so it was common to mix them.”
“In other words, when they boiled the tangyuan, the chef, who was an outsider and didn’t know the property of the water, would use it without knowing that it’s salt water, right?”
At Maomao’s answer, En’en nodded slowly. Infa also clapped her hands in understanding.
However, Empress Gyokuyou tilted her head. “Hey, why can’t you boil tangyuan in salt water?”
Maomao answered Empress Gyokuyou’s question. “The tangyuan will rise up as soon as it is cooked through. When you boil them, the tangyuan will naturally float to the surface of the water.”
But, with salt, it is different. The weight of water changes with the addition of salt. If you boil the tangyuan in heavier water, they’ll float to the surface before it gets cooked through.
“So, are you saying that the tangyuan were raw?”
En’en was also nodding silently, so this was probably correct. Infa, who was occasionally the cook in the Jade Palace, seemed to get it when she heard that it had been boiled in salt water.
“But, what about the egg dish then? That can’t also be the salt water, right?” Infa tilted her head again.
“About what happened to the egg dish, you will understand too if you know the ingredients that had been prepared afterwards.”
“Then, what do you think he made and what ingredients did he choose?”
Maitake mushrooms are a high-class ingredient in the countryside. Egg is a highly nutritious ingredient of course, but in a cooking showdown, they would probably also need a centrepiece ingredient.
“Maitake mushrooms are delicious with a crisp texture, so to make the best use of it, you won’t need to steam it with much heat, right? Raw maitake mushroom would soften meat, so the egg wouldn’t solidify either.”
There are things among food that can be used to tenderise meats. There are many for fruits, and there are also cases where it could soften meat when steamed together.
“That’s right!” Infa’s eyes shone upon hearing something interesting.
“Correct.” En’en’s brows twitched a little. She was expressionless, but she somehow looked bored that Maomao had answered smoothly.
Until just now En’en was talkative, but instead, Yao was quiet. She was hanging her head like she was embarrassed.
“Oh my? What happened to that chef?” Empress Gyokuyou asked.
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“Please be at ease. He got saved by a different person. He didn’t become the chef for the estate, but he got to work for a different family. There was someone who said that they wanted to eat the steamed egg in a proper form. Fortunately, it was the young lady of a family the owner of the estate was acquainted with.”
“That’s a relief.” Empress Gyokuyou laughed cheerfully. It was different from the interesting story she wanted, but it seemed to have amused her as is.
“Yes. It was just perfect that that chef had a younger sister who was still young, and thanks to the young lady, she wasn’t left out in the cold.” En’en raised the corner of her lips.
(Can she smile normally?)
It seemed her cheerful smile was vaguely directed towards the embarrassed Yao.
(So it’s something like that.)
She felt that she understood why En’en talked about that topic.
However, her keeping silent and feigning ignorance, was probably Maomao’s kindness.