Chapter 461 - Strawberries

Li Mengru was very well aware of the value of these small tomatoes. Although her family was lucky enough to buy them once or twice, one box only had around two dozen, so only the children of the legitimate wife were given one to two tomatoes. As for the concubine-born children, even those who were more favored weren’t necessarily given the opportunity to try any.

 She had never expected that the fruit that her older legitimate sister had talked about would actually show up next to her. Furthermore, it wasn’t one or two tomatoes and was actually a whole fruit platter full of them. There were around a couple dozen on the plate!

“Try some. These were planted by me and my godmother and I think they taste better than the ones grown in the greenhouse pavilions!” Yu Xiaocao secretly watered these tomato plants with some mystic-stone water every day, so it was obvious as to why they tasted better. Furthermore, eating these were also beneficial to the body!

Li Mengru carefully used her hand to pick up one and glanced at Yu Xiaocao as if she was trying to assess if it was truly okay for her to eat them. When she saw Yu Xiaocao nod with a smile and also pick one up from the platter in front of her and deliver it to her mouth, Li Mengru finally cautiously placed the small tomato into her mouth. She lightly used her teeth to bite into it and slowly chewed.

A fresh taste of sweetness with a hint of sourness traveled throughout her mouth. It was an unfamiliar flavor but a sense of happiness and contentment spread from her mouth and into her heart. No wonder her older legitimate sister couldn’t forget the taste of these fruits. It wasn’t just the flavor of these small tomatoes that conquered people’s hearts. These tomatoes also gave people a sense of satisfaction. It was the kind of feeling that she only had when her concubine mother was still alive and could still take care of and protect her.

She forcefully sucked on the sweet and sour juice within the cherry tomato, as if she was trying to preserve that feeling of happiness. Because she had been reminded of the good times she had with her concubine mother, Li Mengru’s eyes started to shine with unshed tears while her face had a sweet smile on it.

After she slowly finished the tomato in small bites, Li Mengru gently sniffled and used her handkerchief to dab at the corners of her eyes. She smiled and said, “Forgive me, I was impolite earlier and let you see a joke!”

“No need to be so polite! I’m the same as you. Whenever I eat something that I like I can get overwhelmed by my feelings. Although these small tomatoes are considered quite expensive and valuable by other people, in my residence, they’re as common as cabbages and radishes——I’m not trying to brag. I just want you to feel more comfortable and eat as much as you wish.” In order to soothe the other young maiden’s heart, she made sure that her every expression and word showed how common these cherry tomatoes were to her.

As expected, when Miss Li heard her words, she let out a peal of laughter and said, “If you said this on the streets of the capital, there will definitely be plenty of people who want to beat you up! These fruits are so rare that even those with goblets of money may not be able to get any, but in your eyes, they’re as common as cabbages and radishes. Aren’t you looking for a beating?”  

Yu Xiaocao casually shrugged her shoulders and waved a hand, “Everything I say is true. If you don’t believe me, then you can come visit my family’s greenhouse to take a look. My godmother says I don’t understand elegance since I’m using her greenhouse, which she uses to raise rare and valuable plants, to grow some fruits. Truly a waste of prime resources!”

“Now that you mention it, I am now truly curious about your family’s greenhouse!” Li Mengru was still quite young and usually spent most of her time in her own courtyard. She didn’t have many opportunities to interact with and chat with other young maidens her age. Yu Xiaocao was very different from the other young ladies she knew, who always talked with deliberate politeness. Those maidens were only interested in the four arts and the womanly crafts. Xiaocao, on the other hand, was the exact opposite and it was very refreshing. The other girl was using an expensive greenhouse to grow fruits and vegetables, so she could see why Lady Fang would scold her daughter for being wasteful!

Yu Xiaocao also wasn’t in a hurry to get to her reason for inviting the other girl. As long as she was able to let the other maiden let down her guard and see her as a friend, in the future, things would naturally go as they willed. She grinned and stood up, “If Miss Li doesn’t disdain this, then you can come to the greenhouse with me. Other than tomatoes, I’m also growing some strawberries. This morning I took a peek and it looks like a few of them are pretty much ripe. We can go pick some and try!”

Strawberries? She was even growing strawberries? A glitter of delight flashed through Li Mengru’s eyes. Her legitimate mother was considered quite generous and never shortened the allowances of the concubine-born children. In spring, Li Mengru loved eating the sweet and sour strawberries the most out of all the fruits! She never would have thought that there was someone who could grow strawberries in the middle of winter when the snow and winds blew fiercely. Her young maiden’s heart immediately lightened and the curiosity within her also increased.

The two young maidens put on their thick outer clothing and left the room that was warmed with a heated floor to step into the blustering snow. Yu Xiaocao was in the front, leading the way while Li Mengru followed from behind. Before long, the two of them were in front of the greenhouse.

Since Lady Fang loved flora, General Fang had constructed a very large greenhouse for her in the corner of the back garden. It took up an area of at least three hundred square meters. All four sides of the greenhouse were constructed of transparent glass and even the connecting roof at top was made entirely of expensive glass. This greenhouse alone must have cost at least a thousand taels to construct. Li Mengru was quite flabbergasted at the sight.

When they entered the greenhouse, Li Mengru discovered that the flowers inside weren’t left on the ground like she thought and instead were in pots that were stacked high on shelves. There were shelves on all four sides of the greenhouse. On the south side, there were two stacks and the rest of the sides had three stacks each. All of the shelves held a variety of valuable and rare plants, and orchids made up the largest number. In the best position in the greenhouse was the orchid that had caught everyone’s eye at the flower war banquet, ‘Elegant Lotus Crown’. Furthermore, it wasn’t only just one pot! Some of the flowers had been suspended from above in an effort to save space in the greenhouse to allow vegetables and fruits to be planted below.

The ground in the greenhouse had been cleared. Half of it was used to plant tomatoes and the other half was used to grow strawberries. It was likely that most of the ripe fruits had been picked in the morning as the vast majority of tomatoes on the plants were still green in color. Occasionally, she could see a few that had some faint red coloring. As they walked by, Yu Xiaocao casually picked a few remaining ripe tomatoes that had escaped the earlier harvest and passed them to Li Mengru as she said, “In reality, the fruits that you pick yourself are usually the most sweet. Let’s go, we should go further in to check the strawberry fields!”

The strawberry vines lay on the ground and some bright red fruits peeked out from within the vibrant green of the leaves. Li Mengru spotted a strawberry that was completely red and couldn’t help but bend over to pick it. At this point, Tanchun, who was by Yu Xiaocao’s side, picked up a water dipper from the corner of the greenhouse and walked over with a ladle full of water and smiled, “Miss Li, do you want to wash it?”

Li Mengru looked at the large and bright red strawberry in her hands that was wafting off a sweet fragrance. This strawberry was larger than any of the ones she had previously eaten and the smell it gave off was more dense too. She couldn't help but swallow down her saliva and then glance sheepishly at Yu Xiaocao.

Yu Xiaocao didn’t even notice the embarrassed look in the other girl’s eyes. She stepped onto the slightly moist soil and walked into the strawberry fields. She bent down as she searched within the strawberry leaves and picked the ripe ones she came across. She washed the ones she picked in a dipper of water that was in Wutong’s hands and happily ate them after they were washed.  

Li Mengru hesitated for a moment before she copied the other girl’s movements. She placed the strawberry she had just picked into the water dipper to wash clean and then took a big bite from it. It was so sweet and fragrant! Li Mengru’s eyes curved up in delight and finished the strawberry in another few bites. Then, she followed Xiaocao from behind and looked for new targets.

The two maidens had their heads lowered as they continued to search for ripe strawberries. Although they didn’t speak much, their hearts had unconsciously become a lot closer. By the time they left the greenhouse, Li Mengru was no longer as stiffly polite as before. Even though she still wasn’t very talkative, the smile on her face had become much more sincere. The friendship between these two young maidens had started like this.

While filling her stomach with a bunch of strawberries and small tomatoes, Li Mengru felt as if she was in a dream. She was in a comfortably warm greenhouse eating icy cool fruits that she had personally picked herself. It was truly a strange and eye-opening experience for her.

By the time they got back to the receiving room, the kitchen had sent a few plates of delicate pastries to them. After asking, Li Mengru discovered that Yu Xiaocao herself had come up with the recipes for all of these novel and beautiful desserts! A wave of admiration surged within her——it was no wonder that Xiaocao at such a young age was able to become the only female official in the Great Ming Dynasty. She truly had the talents to back it up!

Li Mengru tried a piece from every pastry and was at the point that her belly bulged from eating. The two young maidens had become close friends after eating and drinking tea together in a harmonious manner.

“Older Sister Mengru, I won’t beat around the bush now and will just say it outright! This time I invited you over because I wanted to discuss with you about collaborating together in opening a store!” Yu Xiaocao stated her motives for inviting the other girl after drinking a sip of digestive tea.

“Collaborate in opening a store?” Li Mengru replied in a very surprised tone and then immediately added sheepishly, “I’m only the daughter of a concubine and I don’t have a lot of money on hand. If Younger Sister Xiaocao doesn’t disdain this, then I can have Jiner take out all of my savings and bring it over to you.”

Jiner, who was standing by her side, had also been given a few pieces of pastries to eat. She was quite grateful that she had gone out today with her young miss. When she heard her young miss offer her life savings, she couldn’t stop her lips from twitching a bit as she thought, ‘Young Miss ah! You probably don’t have more than ten taels saved up right now and the only reason you have that much is because it’s winter right now and you can’t buy your ingredients for your cosmetics. Official Yu has so many money-making ventures in her hands, so how could she possibly lack your insignificant ten taels?’

As expected, Yu Xiaocao chuckled gently, “Older Sister Mengru, I want to open a cosmetics shop that targets women. I’m sure you’ve also heard of my residence’s peach blossom tea, right? Since it’s a beautifying cosmetics store, it can’t just rely on flower teas alone and needs some products targeting the outer skin. I heard that you’re quite good and creative at coming up with new cosmetic products. Thus, I boldly invited you over…”

“Are you saying that you want to sell the cosmetics that I make in this new store?” Li Mengru’s eyes were opened wide in disbelief as she asked in a flabbergasted manner.  Yu Xiaocao nodded her head and replied, “Yes! Not only you, but I also invited the daughter of the Prime Minister, Older Sister Yuan, to also collaborate with this venture and see if she wants to sell her products…”

“Oh no, oh no!” Li Mengru repeatedly waved her hand and said, “Those cosmetics are just some random things I made in my free time and they are nowhere near finished products. It’s fine to take some out and play around but if I dare to sell them in your store, I’m afraid I might drag you down a bad road, Younger Sister. I absolutely cannot!”

“Older Sister, is it necessary for you to be so humble? Even Older Sister Yuan, one of the two beauties of the capital, praises the cosmetics you make without end. She also said that the products you make are even better than the cosmetics that are sold by Full Spring Fragrance. The other noble maidens who have tried your products also have the same opinion. Older Sister, do you still have any doubts now?”  

“But…”

“No need for buts! People need to learn how to try before they know what they truly can or cannot accomplish! Back when the emperor titled me as a sixth-ranked official and put me in charge of managing the Imperial Plantation, I was also feeling a bit uneasy. However, now, didn’t the facts show that I am capable of doing this?” Yu Xiaocao knew that the other maiden wasn’t necessarily without talent but more had an issue with confidence. Thus, she tried to bolster the other girl. 

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Myst.2's Thoughts

Sanguine’s thoughts: Yum, ripe strawberries.

Translator: Sanguine