The heavy thuds of something being hit resounded from the side of the dilapidated shack. Drawn in by the sound, a brat brimming with curiosity approached.
“What are you doing, Freckles? You’re finally home!”
It was Chou’u. His cheeks were smeared with paint. She heard he had been learning to paint from an artist; it seems he is still continuing.
Maomao was beating plant roots with a mallet, which were actually washed arrowroot. Sazen was also beating arrowroots with a mallet beside her. She thought Kokuyou was going to help her, but he left to watch the shop as there was a customer who came in at the perfect time to buy medicine. The madam would get noisy if they left the place sitting empty for too long.
(I didn’t leave any valuables there. This will probably make the madam’s eyes shine.)
Right now, teaching Sazen how to make the kudzu powder took precedence.
“Are you frustrated? You’re venting your anger on a tree root thing,” Chou’u asked.
“No. We’re making medicine,” Maomao answered.
“Hmmm, it looks mucky.”
“Help out if you’re going to watch. Go draw water from the well.”
“Ehhh—” Chou’u was completely unmotivated. Cheeky kids won’t move unless there’s some bribery involved.
“If you help, I’ll make you a confectionery you’ve never eaten before.”
“I’ll do it!” Chou’u headed towards the well, eyes shining.
“It’s nice when the brat is energetic.” Sazen who was forced to swing a mallet after digging holes was exhausted. There was no life in his eyes. “What’d we do after pulverising this?”
She held up the arrowroot that had been crushed by a mallet. “We’ll wash it and strain it through a sieve. Then repeat.”
Maomao prepared a pail and sieve.
“I brought the water—” Chou’u tottered back.
“Okay.” Maomao washed the arrowroot carefully in the bucket of water. After that, she strained it through the sieve. She bore with the bitingly cold water as she repeated the steps.
“It really is mucky,” Chou’u said.
Muddy brown water dripped from the sieve, while the plant root remained on the sieve.
“Come on already, we still don’t have enough water. Go draw more water,” Maomao said.
“Freckles—drawing water is hard,” Chou’u said.
“When I was your age, I had to do around fifty round trips in a day.”
“…–” As if some part of him hated to lose, the brat went to draw water again.
“Ain’t fifty round trips intense for a child?” Sazen said as he crushed the next arrowroot.
“But I was forced into it,” Maomao said.
“What did you do?”
(It was punishment for pickling snake in all the wine at the Rokushoukan.)
The madam had given her a look of outrage and took away her meals until she was done. By the way, the madam made spectacular sales out of the pickled wine later by telling customers it had energising properties.
Sazen smashed the arrowroot. Chou’u carried water over. Maomao carefully washed and strained.
Chou’u hated losing, but he’s also a spoiled brat. Before she realised, he had roped a free manservant into helping him.
Now that there was a manservant helping out, she had no idea what the madam was going to say. Now she had to prepare something to make up for wages.
“Oiiiii, Maomao. Take your… kind, off me.” Sazen sounded aggrieved, as maomao the cat had latched onto his back unnoticed.
“Whose kind?” Maomao placed both hands by maomao’s sides and lifted it up. It meowed as its torso was stretched excessively long. “Hey hey, don’t get in the way.”
The residents of Rokushouken had also spoiled maomao rotten, so it tended to treat humans with contempt. Especially towards underlings like Sazen.
With some moodiness, maomao pawed at Maomao.
“If you get in the way, I’ll turn you into a brush,” she said.
Just when she thought maomao would give a start, it gave the back of its head a scratch with its hindlegs before running off elsewhere.
“You can bully the cat, but I’m done crushing everything–.” Sazen rolled his shoulders. “How are we turning this into powder?” He held up a piece of pulverised arrowroot, one that has already been strained.
“We’re not using that,” Maomao said.
Maomao pointed to the dirty water. “This is what we’re using.”
“This? Isn’t this dirty water? We weren’t chucking that out?”
“Wha—idiot! Don’t chuck it out!” She found herself yelling.
The most important part of making kudzu powder is the water from the straining.
“As for why we crushed the arrowroot, there are nutrients in the root,” she said.
“Its nutrients dissolve in water. So, the crushed roots are used up after they have been strained.” Maomao intended to explain as thoroughly as possible, but it seems Sazen still has yet to catch on. “Anyways, we’ll let this strained water sit in the house overnight. Try not to move it around so much.”
“No, I still don’t get you.”
“You’ll know by tomorrow.”
Her reply was vague, but he will probably understand once he sees the actual thing tomorrow.
Maomao sighed deeply as she strained the last of the arrowroot.
There was no rest for Maomao after that. She borrowed the kitchen of the Rokushoukan. As expected, the madam requested pay from her for the manservant.
“Heyy, what is this unusual confectionery?” Chou’u whined.
“Ahh, so annoying. I’ll make it now, so shut up.” Maomao took out the leftover kudzu powder and emptied them into a large pot. After it had dissolved, she added syrup.
(It makes the colouring worse, so sugar or honey would be better.)
They’re expensive so it’s wasteful. Even syrup is extravagant.
“The colour’s kinda dirty,” Chou’u said.
“Shut up.” Maomao set the pot on the stove, stirring it briskly with a wooden spoon.
“It turned kinda gloopy,”
“It’s the same as kudzu tea.”
Kudzu powder becomes viscous when heated. If the water evaporates, it turns into something mochi-esque.
“With only this, the hag will say it’s unsatisfactory.”
She added walnut. Walnut is also used as a nutritional supplement, so it’s perfect for the courtesans.
“Something like this?”
Maomao spread yellow powder on a large plate and poured the boiled kudzu powder over it. Since it’s mochi instead of powder now, it’s better to call it kudzu mochi.
“What’s this yellow powder?” Chou’u asked.
“It’s soybean. Roasted soybean powder, that is.”
In eastern medicine, it is commonly known as koushi(香鼓). It usually uses beans that are sticky from fermentation. This is made from roasted soybeans that have been grounded through a millstone. There’s also a little bit of sugar and salt in the power. A small amount of salt enhances the sweetness.
She coated the kudzu mochi evenly with the roasted soybean powder.
“Oh my–, looks good.” Pairin-neechan came over, lured by the smell.
(It would be better if neechan doesn’t get any more vigorous than she is now though)
There was no way she won’t do it beyond having found this.
“Neechan, please don’t sneakily eat as soon as it’s been plated,” Maomao said.
“I know alreadyy,” Pairin said, sticking out her tongue.
“Chou’u, prepare the plates. Several people’s worth,” Maomao said.
“‘kay,” Chou’u said.
Although Maomao said leftovers, kudzu powder is expensive. She even used walnuts, sugar, syrup and roasted soybean powder.
She’ll distribute this to all the courtesans and manservants at the Rokushoukan, so the madam probably won’t complain.
“Hohoh, to make up for the pay for the manservant, izzit?” The crone, who had slipped over, passed a critical eye over the kudzu mochi. “Rather meagre.”
“What are you saying, you old lady. You don’t believe in the skills of a pastry maker trained in the inner palace?” Maomao said.
“Ahaha. Ya were trained in a brothel before that, so it’s not like ya have skills or whatnot,” the madam said, taking a plate and eating one with a snap using chopsticks. “…walnut filling, huh. It’s soft compared to mochi. Wouldn’t it be better if there’s a tad more bite to it?”
“Normally, I would eat it after chilling it.”
“Can ya eat cold things like this in the dead of winter?”
(Ahh, can you just choke on it?)
This granny who can’t keep her mouth shut would probably live to a hundred.
Maomao cooled the bottom of the plate with cold well water as she diluted the syrup to make a sauce.
Partly because of the sweets, the courtesans who were practising and napping in their rooms showed up one by one
They can’t all enter the dining area, so the lower class courtesans ate in the lobby by the entrance. It was perfect as there were no noontime customers today.
Chou’u was happily holding a plate and eating with a kamuro friend in the hall.
“Mmmm, delicious.” Pairin-neechan’s face eased into a smile. The taste improved after it was lightly drizzled with watered down syrup.
“Not bad.” Joka-neechan gave her slightly haughty opinion. This was considered praise from the unsociable woman.
“It’s made from kudzu powder, right? If only it was made from cheaper flours,” Meimei-neechan said as she picked it up with chopsticks and studied it.
“Yes. Can’t you make it with wheat flour? If not, from grounded rice?”
Joka-neechan was the one who suggested that. Pairin-neechan didn’t hear, already in a trance from eating.
“Wheat would make it steamed bun, and rice would just be normal mochi.”
“Even though we have so much wheat and rice.”
The Rokushoukan stored the wheat and rice Maomao was given. It was what she received from the time she had a wine-drinking contest.
“Kudzu is arrowroot, right? Can we make it from similar roots?” Joka asked.
Maomao made a cross with both hands. “Kudzu root is chock full of nutrients. Since kudzu powder is what we extract from it…” She tilted her head.
(Nutrients are stored in the root.)
In other words, something like a potato.
And, when it came to potato, Maomao had an idea. “We might be able to try with sweet potato.”
“Sweet potato, huh. If it’s sweet potato, wouldn’t it be better to just bake it as it is?” Pairin, who had cleared her plate, said.
“That’s true. It’s better to eat it normally. Besides, it takes work.” Meimei also nodded.
“But turning it into powder makes it suitable for storage.” Joka, the quick thinker, saw it from a different angle.
“Storage, definitely. It won’t take up space either.”
(That’s right. It’s good for storage.)
Potato isn’t suited for long storage to the extent of rice. It sprouts quickly and can also rot. However, if it’s been grounded into powder, the ease of storage increases remarkably. It won’t sprout, does not rot easily, and moreover, it won’t take up space.
(Let’s try taking up the suggestion.)
There might be potatoes that have been leftover and rotting in the farm, and processing the potatoes might create jobs.
Maomao was a layman for that part so someone would probably do it for her.
“Joka and Maomao are smart, huh. Pairin-neechan, aside from eating potatoes, don’t understand much.” Meimei was a little surprised.
“Neechan, aside from dancing, doesn’t like studying much,” Joka said.
“Yes. These days, the customers who visit often only speak about difficult things, so I quickly get lost,” Pairin said.
“Neechan is being unfair. Your customers will be satisfied if you just smile. As for me, even though I reply to all of them, they are taken aback.” Joka, who has enough knowledge to make a Civil Examination student turn pale, probably has customers who take it upon themselves to raise difficult questions. Civil officials often come by in hopes of outwitting the courtesan someday.
“Heeh, what do they talk about? That reminds me, there have been a lot of customers from the West recently,” Meimei said.
“Yes. The customers from the Western Capital. Like inspections and tax raises and such. Apparently, they were told don’t talk about it, but they, like, talked about it. It’s fine since I forget immediately though,” Pairin said.
The Western Capital is Empress Gyokuyou’s birthplace. At the moment, her father is visiting the Capital but—
(Is it because Jinshi had raised taxes in preparation for the famine?)
No, then why the inspection? Could Don’t talk about it be a gag order?
(It’s a little suspicious.)
Maomao’s brow twitched as she put a kudzu mochi in her mouth.