Cai Mansion Flower Appreciation Party
On this afternoon, Yu Qingze was in the shop watching the plastered stove being whitewashed by the master mason. While halfway through the task, they suddenly heard the sound of gongs being beaten outside. After a while, the sound gradually faded away.
The two of them walked to the door to see what was going on but didn’t find any particular reason. However, they noticed that people on the street were excitedly discussing something.
After listening for a while, Yu Qingze learned that the results of the provincial examination had been announced, and Jiang Tianrui, the second young master of the Jiang family in the southern part of the city, ranked sixth, making him a top scorer. The person beating the gongs was bringing the good news.
The mason sighed and said, “Boss Liu will be proud. His son-in-law has become a juren!”
(T/N: The following is the breakdown of scholar rankings, from lowest to highest, per wikipedia.
Tong sheng – child student; an entry-level examinee who had passed the county/prefecture exams.
Shengyuan / Xiucai– student member; an entry-level licentiate who had passed the higher level (like college) exam.
Juren – recommended man; a qualified graduate who passed the triennial provincial exam.
Gongshi – tribute scholar; a recognized scholarly achiever who passed the triennial national exam.
Jinshi – advanced scholar; a graduate who passed the triennial court exam.)
Upon hearing this, Yu Qingze was delighted and said, “Yes, I will go congratulate him later!”
While they were talking, another round of gong sounds rang out.
The mason poked his head out to see and asked in confusion, “Did someone else pass?”
After a while, the news came from the intersection.
It turned out that the eldest young master of the Cai family, Cai Chenxi, had achieved the highest score and became the top scholar. The person delivering the good news had already reported it in Yunzhou, but since Cai Chenxi had been staying in Tongshan City recently, he asked the person to come and report the news again at the Cai residence in Tongshan City.
“The top scholar! Boss Yu, did you hear that? Young Master Cai from the Cai family has done remarkably well. His father, Master Cai, was also the top scholar in his year!” The mason was particularly excited.
“Really?” Yu Qingze asked in astonishment.
The mason nodded, then went back inside and continued working while talking to Yu Qingze. He said, “Yes, indeed. Master Cai was quite a prominent figure in our Tongshan City. He was the youngest among the candidates in his year’s provincial examination. I remember he was around seventeen or eighteen at that time. However, his grandfather passed away, and he had to observe mourning, so he didn’t go to the capital for the metropolitan examination the following year. Then, a few years later, his younger brother also passed away, causing further delays. It’s a pity. Otherwise, he might have become the youngest Zhuangyuan.”
Yu Qingze sighed in contemplation, “Is that so? Master Cai didn’t have much luck when he was young.”
The mason nodded and continued applying plaster with a trowel, saying, “Fortunately, he eventually passed the examination and was assigned to serve as an official in Tongshan City. I heard that he could have stayed in the capital, but for some reason, he chose to return.”
Yu Qingze didn’t respond to that comment. The world of officials is indeed complex.
“By the way, Boss Yu, once this stove is finished being whitewashed, we’ll need to open the windows in this room for ventilation. The smell of the lime isn’t pleasant. Once it dries, it’ll be ready for use, and after some time, the smell will dissipate,” the mason said to Yu Qingze.
“Alright, thank you for your help.”
It didn’t take long for the mason to finish applying the plaster. After tidying up his tools, he noticed there was still a little bit of mortar left in the bucket and said to Yu Qingze, “Boss Yu, I noticed a large patch of wall plaster has come off in your backyard. I have some mortar left here. How about I patch it up for you?”
Yu Qingze’s eyes lit up. There was an unsightly patch on the exterior wall of his storage room, so he replied, “Sure, thank you.”
The two of them moved to the backyard, and the mason scraped off the loose plaster, prepared the surface, and began applying the mortar.
After the worker finished and left, Yu Qingze took a good look at the newly plastered stove.
The stove had an L-shaped design, divided into two parts. Inside was the stove for cooking, which would be used for keeping food warm. On the side facing the guests, there was a platform that was fifty centimeters wide, where guests could place their plates. The height of the platform was about ten centimeters higher than the overall height of the stove inside. In between, there was a low wall about ten centimeters high to separate the two sections.
Looking at the white countertop, Yu Qingze found the color unappealing and easy to get dirty, making it difficult to clean. He thought about asking his grandfather to weave some bamboo mats to place on the outside of the countertop at home, so it wouldn’t get dirty easily.
Having made up his mind, he tidied up a bit, opened the windows facing the courtyard, and locked the door before heading back to his snack stall.
Jiang Tianrui and Cai Chenxi both passed the imperial examination, so he needed to prepare some gifts to congratulate them.
For such a significant occasion, it wouldn’t be suitable to always give pastries as gifts. After discussing with his friend Brother Le, Yu Qingze went out to buy presents.
After buying the gifts, Yu Qingze went to Liu’s place.
“Congratulations, Boss Liu! Your son-in-law has achieved the title of juren!” Yu Qingze congratulated Boss Liu upon seeing him.
Boss Liu had already received the news and was overjoyed. He looked completely different from his usual stern expression. When he saw Yu Qingze, he couldn’t help but smile openly, without any pretense. “Brother Yu, thank you, thank you! It’s all Tianrui’s own merit! Today is truly a great day! Hahaha…”
Yu Qingze handed him the gifts, and Boss Liu didn’t hesitate to accept them, saying he would give them to Jiang Tianrui. Then the two of them chatted and laughed together for a while before Yu Qingze returned to his snack stall.
The next day, taking advantage of the morning when there weren’t many people around, Yu Qingze first went to congratulate the Cai residence, and then he was invited to stay by Madam Cai.
“Xiao Yu, I was just looking for you,” Madam Cai said as he gestured for Yu Qingze to take a seat.
Yu Qingze asked, ” Madam Cai, is there something you need from me?”
Madam Cai replied, “Since Xiaoxi has achieved the title of juren, various families in the city sent congratulatory gifts yesterday, all from prominent families in Tongshan City. I’m planning to host a flower appreciation gathering tomorrow, inviting the heads of these families to gather and show our gratitude. Originally, Xiaoxi should have been in charge of this, but he is still in Yunzhou, so I had to take over. That’s why I want to ask you to prepare some snacks to entertain the guests.”
Upon hearing this, Yu Qingze immediately responded, “That’s great. What kind of snacks does Madam Cai want?”
After thinking for a moment, Madam Cai said, “We’ll need a variety of sweet and savory snacks. Since everyone loves the snacks you make, you can decide on the specific types. Around eight or nine varieties should be enough.”
Yu Qingze pondered for a moment and said, “Alright. How many people are expected to attend?”
Madam Cai answered, “There will be around fifteen or sixteen madams of esteemed families, and they might bring their children along as well. So we need to prepare for about twenty to thirty people.”
Yu Qingze further inquired, “Will it be in the morning?”
Madam Cai nodded and said, “Yes. The flowers will bloom beautifully in the morning.”
“Alright, Madam Cai. Tomorrow morning, I will bring Brother Le with me,” Yu Qingze agreed with a nod.
Upon hearing that Brother Le would be coming, Madam Cai asked, “If Brother Le is coming, what will happen to your snack stall tomorrow? Will it affect your business?”
“No worries, there will be someone taking care of it,” Yu Qingze shook his head. With the madams of various prestigious families present, it was a great opportunity to promote the snacks.
Hearing his reassurance, Madam Cai felt relieved and said, “Alright then, thank you for your hard work, both you and Brother Le.”
“No problem, please don’t mention it,” Yu Qingze replied politely.
“When will your shop be open? We’ll have to come and take a look then.”
“It will take a few more days, probably around the 22nd.”
“Alright, once you’re sure, let us know. I and the old man want to go and see.”
On the same day, Yu Qingze went to the kitchen to communicate with Uncle Fu, ensuring that all the necessary ingredients were prepared, and then he returned.
In the evening, they prepared three dishes that could be served cold, and the rest would be prepared at the Cai residence.
In the middle of the night, Yu Qingze got up and soaked the white fungus. Just before leaving, he also soaked the lotus seeds and brought them along.
He planned to showcase the white fungus dessert, making a red jujube and lotus seed sweet soup at Madam Cai’s flower appreciation gathering.
Early in the morning, as the sky was just getting bright, he set off with Brother Le. They had already arranged for Uncle Chang, Brother Chang’s father, to oversee the snack stall in the morning, and once they finished their tasks, Uncle Chang would return.
With the help of Uncle Fu and the kitchen staff, they prepared all the snacks before the flower appreciation gathering began. They even made extra as suggested by Madam Cai, so that the guests could take some back home.
In the back garden of the Cai residence, preparations had been made for the flower appreciation gathering.
Various chrysanthemums were blooming brightly, the scent of osmanthus filled the air, purple butterfly orchids swayed gracefully, and red roses and begonias showed off their charm…
The madams of various prestigious families, dressed elegantly, arrived one after another, just as Madam Cai had expected. They also brought many young gers with them, of all ages, creating a lively atmosphere.
Cai Chenxi was of marriageable age and still unmarried, so it was likely that each family had some thoughts in that regard.
Madam Cai led them into the garden, where tables, chairs, and refreshments had already been set up.
The esteemed guests chatted and laughed while enjoying the flowers for a while.
Two young boys noticed the snacks on the table and mentioned it to their mother. They went over and started eating the snacks.
“Mother, these snacks are so delicious. Can we buy them when we go back? Please?” One of the boys held a snack in his hand and asked his mother.
Upon hearing this, everyone looked at the red bean cake in the boy’s hand and realized that these snacks were not available in the market.
“Ah, these snacks… Madam Cai, are these made by Yu’s Delicious Delights?” one of the esteemed guests asked.
Madam Cai nodded and said, “Yes, I specifically asked him to make them. Everyone, please have a seat and taste his craftsmanship.”
As soon as they heard that it was made by Yu’s, their interest was piqued. They sat down in different places and started tasting the snacks.
Recently, they had tried several kinds of snacks from both the Cai residence and the Zhao residence, all made by Yu’s. The taste was much better than the snacks from other pastry shops in Tongshan City. However, Yu’s usually took custom orders and rarely sold their products directly.
An esteemed guest from the Zhao residence tasted a sticky rice cake and said, “Yu Qingze, the owner of Yu’s, is truly talented. The snacks he made for our patriarch’s birthday banquet were all exquisite. Especially the longevity peach buns, they looked and tasted just like the real thing. The patriarch was delighted.”
Another esteemed guest who had also attended the banquet replied, “Yes, I tasted them at the banquet too. They were not only visually appealing but also delicious.”
Everyone discussed these snacks for a while.
“Today, Boss Yu also made a new dessert called Silver Ear Red Date Lotus Seed Sweet Soup with goji berries. Everyone should give it a try,” Madam Cai said when he saw that it was almost time. He waved his hand, signaling Mi Ge’er to have the final dessert served.
Mi Ge’er brought the dessert, silver ear sweet soup, and placed it on the table before stepping aside.
Madam Cai called out, “Everyone, please try it. Boss Yu said that this dessert is especially beneficial for us gers. It promotes beauty, nourishes and moisturizes the skin, nourishes yin, and moistens the lungs. Drinking more of it is good for your health.”
Curious, everyone started tasting the dessert.
The lotus seeds were soft and sticky, the red dates were rich and sweet, and the cooked silver ear was tender and smooth.
They instantly fell in love with it.
“It’s delicious.” “Not bad at all.”
They had seen lotus seed, red date, and goji berry combinations before, but they had never seen transparent and smooth silver ear before.
“What is this transparent and smooth thing? I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it,” one of the esteemed guests asked.
Madam Cai replied, “Boss Yu said it’s called silver ear, also known as white fungus.”
“White fungus? Oh, white fungus is not edible, right? I know about it. It makes your skin itchy when you eat it,” one of the esteemed guests immediately exclaimed, a little startled, and put down his spoon.
Upon hearing this, the others were also frightened and put down their spoons, looking at Madam Cai with confusion. How could Madam Cai give them something that is not edible?
Madam Cai calmly continued drinking, taking two more sips before saying, “Don’t worry, it’s fine. Boss Yu said that if you pick it, eat it immediately, and go out under the sun afterwards, it would make you itchy, just like Madam Huang said, but after drying and soaking it in water, it’s safe. Look, I ate it and nothing happened, right?”
Uncle Fu had recognized the white fungus when he saw Yu Qingze taking it out earlier. Later, Yu Qingze explained and then drank it in front of them. He even went to sunbathe for fifteen minutes, and nothing happened.
Seeing that Brother Le was indeed fine, Uncle Fu finally reassured the guests.
Seeing their skeptical expressions, Madam Cai smiled and said, “This is a good thing. Don’t blame me if you regret not drinking it later. If you want to drink it later, you’ll have to spend money at Boss Yu’s shop.”
Upon hearing Madam Cai’s words, a few bolder individuals, like Madam Zhao, continued drinking. Madam Cai had already drunk it, so what were they afraid of? Besides, Madam Cai wouldn’t harm himself.
The taste was indeed good, and Madam Zhao asked Madam Cai, “Madam Cai, is Boss Yu still here? Can I buy two pounds from him to try at home?”
Madam Cai looked at him and nodded, saying, “You have a discerning eye. However, he mentioned that the quantity is limited, and he doesn’t sell silver ear separately. It’s only used in the desserts at his shop. When his shop opens, you can go there and have it.”
“When will his shop open?”
“They said it will be in a few days, probably around the 22nd.”