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The setting is the early 15th century C.E.

My grandmother knew how to make delicious beancurd and it has since become famous as word spread like wildfire across the land. Business is good, as many travelers would make a stop at our stall, so now she is considering delivery services to reach more customers living in the other villages.

The problem is that this beancurd cannot be salted as it will taste terrible and it will go bad after 3 days. She is very selfish and not even I, her next of kin, know the complete recipe. I love her and all but I can't bear to see her disappointed, any help would be appreciated.

P.S.: the tech level is capped at that of 15th century Europe.

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    $\begingroup$ What's the goal? Deliver anywhere within 1-3 business days? Deliver to the neighbouring village? $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 12 at 7:48
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: more customers = more money = more dotes on me... either work on extending shelf life or faster delivery time ;D $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 12 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ You don't have stall, you are living in palace and your grandmother is beancurd cook for the "whatevs". She don't want to? Not like she can have a word about it. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 12 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ Consider where the stall is located and why there are so many passers-by. I'm not sure how common travel was in the 15th century but you can bet your backside it was far less common than nowadays! $\endgroup$ – Daron Jan 12 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ Also consider you need a windmill to grind beans to make the beancurd (I think) and this will influence how close you need to be to a large-ish settlement. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jan 12 at 13:24

11 Answers 11

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Pretty much forget about systematic perishable food delivery service in the 15th century Europe.

Eat local in those times meant "eat what your village produces" for most of the people. And 20 km was already a remarkable distance for people who could rely just on their feet for moving.

If you start putting on stage horses and carriages for shortening the delivery time plus a snow chamber for refrigerating the shipment you are also raising the bar of your target customers. But I guess that if some well off really wants your produce for them, they would find much more convenient to relocate you at their place than having a courier delivering it. Also because that would be much more of a status symbol.

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    $\begingroup$ if she moves to a city she will at least have more customers. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 12 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ OP lost me after "as word spread like wildfire across the land" if you take three days off of your sustenance farming you can go look at this stuff called bean curd that you can't afford anyway. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 13 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ In much of Europe the villages are about two hours (or less) walking from each other, for that spread did allow for people to live in the villages and tend fields an hour walk away, and the people from the next village the same. 20 km is town distances, many villages between towns. Even with those short distances most people did not leave their village. $\endgroup$ – Willeke Jan 13 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ "many travelers would make a stop" - What "many" travelers? Peasants don't travel far from their hometown. Nobility mostly wouldn't stoop to visiting low-class food joints. That leaves messengers and lower class merchants; probably not enough to have a thriving business solely off one food product. It just doesn't fit the economics of the time period, afaict. $\endgroup$ – Jamin Grey Jan 14 at 5:30
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Weekly Market

There are weekly markets in the local town. People travel from several neighboring villages to attend. Your grandmother arrives a day early and rents space to prepare the curd to be sold the following day.

Fermentation

Fermentation is a common method of preservation. Fermented tofu exists in the real world. Any fresh beancurd not sold is fermented to be sold at a later date. It is fermented and sealed in wax much like a wheel of cheese. Then it can be transported long distances.

Added Later: Another option is that Granny's special ingredient is her choice of coagulant. She cannot sell the tofu abroad but she can charge a premium for selling phials of coagulant.

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    $\begingroup$ HK's smelly beancurd... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 12 at 13:16
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You don't deliver past walking distance.

Beancurd is an especially interesting problem. It must be kept cool, or the shelf life is single digit hours. Refrigerated, it lasts 3-5 days tops. Freezing completely ruins it, so forget packing in ice. AND, it gets degraded by mechanical vibrations, so no racing over cobblestone roads!

Realistically, the only way to get Beancurd to a customer in good enough shape, is to hand-carry it in a cooled basket. Wet cloth, and maybe a bit of ice in the bottom of the basket to keep the temperature down. Remember that while 15th century ice is available, it is a real rarity and only to be used for the most valuable of goods.

So, you DON'T deliver.
You make a fixed distribution point, and have the customers come to you. The same way that Dairies do, and Bakeries.

Frankly, the concept of deliveries for perishables further than a quick run by messenger (maybe 3 miles) is quite a novel idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ Dairies delivery via milkmen in horse-drawn carriage. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jan 12 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn to be fair they did not start that until the 1800's $\endgroup$ – John Jan 12 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ industrialization, which made food transport profitable because fewer and fewer people lived on farms. Milk also travels much better than tofu. milk was not transported cold, but in metal barrels that you just poured out to fill whatever container the customer had. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 12 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ To add to John's comment: Per en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_delivery, a big part of profitable milk transport was the introduction of railways. Of course, now milk delivery is simpler: You can just use Ultra-heat treatment and store it at room temperature. $\endgroup$ – Brian Jan 12 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Also better roads. 1800's England had way better roads (and rail) than 1400's $\endgroup$ – PcMan Jan 12 at 21:00
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River Transport

As others have pointed out, bean curd degrades if shaken, so carrying it any distance in a horse-cart is likely to deliver an inferior product.

Furthermore, bean curd is often packed in water to maintain its hydration and soft texture. This makes it heavy to transport.

But, your grandmother's bean curd shop is likely located by a stream or river to provide power for the mill that grinds the beans, and to provide the copious amounts of water needed in the production of bean curd.

So rather than take it by road, transport it by boat along the river. Boats don't jostle like carts. And they can carry heavier loads than carts.

Water from the river can be used to keep the bean curd cool as it travels.

What kind of boat is available depends on your exact locale. Maybe it's a barge towed by a mule on a tow-path. Maybe it's a punt, poled down the mill stream. Maybe it's a larger river boat of some kind. Maybe your grandmother buys a boat and sends you in it to deliver the tofu or maybe she simply pays a passing boatman to take the tofu to other villages where friendly shopkeepers have agreed to pick it up and sell it onward.

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    $\begingroup$ This makes a lot of sense +1. People live by rivers. There will be customers at every stop. Let's say the river flows at 10mph. With crews working shifts day and night (commonly done on boats), 3 days is 72 hours - brief enough to keep the curd fresh. That is long enough to send a boat downstream for 720 miles! This is enough to reach the Big City and make a special delivery to the King's palace. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 13 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ P.S Rivers in Europe were major trading routes in Britan and Europe in the Middle Ages. The average length of a river in Europe is 150 miles. Granny will be rich! $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 13 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ Note to Photon. When there are many answers, it makes sense to give yours a title in bold. This way people can easily reference it when scanning through. It could be as simple as, say, River Transport $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 13 at 9:47
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Instead of delivering, she can:

  1. Go from place to place and stay a couple of days during which she prepares and sells beancurd to the locals.

  2. When she is too old, she can teach young people of her family (the beancurd secret must be kept away from strangers) how to prepare beancurd. Then they will go from place to place and so on...

  3. They even can settle and spread the concept around just like your grand-mother did.

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  • $\begingroup$ "if you don't come to me then I shall go to you!" $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 12 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ If she's a grandmother, she's already very old. That was an era in which seeing your grandchildren alive was considered a great blessing. $\endgroup$ – Mary Jan 12 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary: the mortality then is very bad so she was in her late 20s when my mother was born ;D $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 12 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary If someone survived to adulthood, they could still likely live to their 60's or 70's. The low life expectancy was because of the very high infant and child mortality. For women, living through the birth of each child was another hurdle to a long life. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jan 12 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Deaths were considerably more evenly distributed through the age groups than they are today. Yes, you might live to that age, but "May you live to see your children's children" was considered a blessing. $\endgroup$ – Mary Jan 12 at 23:23
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Dried tofu.

dried tofu

https://www.tofutoday.com/dried-tofu/#:~:text=Dried%20Tofu%20is%20a%20traditional,known%20as%20%E2%80%9Cvegetable%20ham%E2%80%9D.

How long does dried tofu last? It can be stored for up to 9 months after packaging and can be stored for one week in the refrigerator without packaging.

You dry your granny's bean curd. It becomes curd jerky. It keeps a long time. It is still delicious. I want some now!

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Ready mix

The secret ingredients are ground into powder form. This is delivered far and wide. All the householder has to do is add water or sprinkle it over their own cookpot. (As you may be able to tell I don't know much about cooking but I'm sure a DIY kit of some sort would work).

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  • $\begingroup$ While a good idea (Coca Cola uses it successfully), bean curd is mostly technique. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jan 12 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ That technique works in the modern day, but it was rarely used in antiquity. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jan 12 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica You should probably read up about medieval economics and trading. It was extremely different than what we know today. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jan 12 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker - rarely is not never. What about the spice routes? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_trade In any case, this is fiction. Someone has to invent new methods. This could be a great origin story. *How the spice routes started from Granny's old bean curd recipe!" $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jan 12 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica Spices are easy to dry and transport. Granny's bean curd goes bad after three days. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jan 13 at 4:21
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The answer is simple but this will require some changes: expansion.

Considering the logistics in the other answers, long-term delivery is too difficult without special preservation methods (drying or fermentation) to be an option. Even over short term distances, bean curd "gets degraded by mechanical vibrations" (emphasis mine, quote PcMan) and does not travel well (even refrigerated, tofu only lasts 3 to 5 days).

To put it frankly, Grandma may be incredibly selfish, but I'm willing to bet she ain't dumb enough to ignore the writing on the wall. Grandma will have to test family members for worthiness, have those who passed pledge their very souls to the cause of the Westerford Heritage Bean Curd (read: swear them to secrecy on PAIN OF DEATH), tell them the recipe, and then have them settle in other nearby villages, where they will make and sell her special bean curd. Y'know, like any family-recipe obsessed, slightly unhinged grandma would do if she possessed vision.

This culinary cult, this savory secret combination, will create a 'cultlinary' franchise like the world has never known. Passed down and expanding through the generations through Grandma's wise method, this ever-widening web of bean curd stalls will not only spread, but evolve (like any "good" disease) until your world ends up with a beloved (and global) franchise named "Curdonald's."

Tasty idea, right?

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many travelers would make a stop at our stall, so now she is considering delivery services to reach more customers living in the other villages.

There is your answer. Tell the travellers that they can make a profit by selling the BC at the next few villages they pass through. Give them a discount for bulk-buying and off they go. You can mention that the BC will last for a certain number of days but point out that what they can't sell, they can eat.

Alternatively, if you are a bad character, you can lie and say it should last for a long time. A traveller in those days would be unlikely to turn back and demand a refund. They will be making a serious journey not a sight-seeing day trip.

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Gas it with Carbon-mono-xid or something similar, so most germs cant thrive. Freeze it on glacier ice in a box. Bake them on arrival.

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  • $\begingroup$ Carbon monoxide? In the 1400s? $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jan 13 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think beancurds are damaged by freezing. Also, does carbon monoxide actually kill germs? It doesn't even harm insects very much. It is quite deadly to organisms that use iron hemoglobin though. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jan 13 at 22:11
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Carrier Pigeons

Grandma's bean curd is best enjoyed in small amounts; it's a delicacy after all. It may be impossible to carry the curd long distances over ground, because mechanical vibration and lengthy duration will degrade the curd. However, cages filled with pigeons suffer no such frailties.

Once you've carried the birds from their homes to grandma's house, simply affix small vials of bean curd to the birds. Once you release them, they'll fly back home at 60 miles an hour. They're able to find their way back home as long as home is within 1100 miles; the longevity of the bean curd quickly becomes a more pressing concern. If it only lasts for eight hours, that means you're limited to a radius of about 500 miles.

You may not be able to send great quantities, but it'll get there fast enough and it shouldn't be shaken too badly. The first recorded use of Carrier Pigeons dates back to Egypt in 3000 BC, so it fits well within your historical limitation. I pulled all of my pigeon data from here, and there's more where that came from.

The marketing material simply writes itself; who wouldn't want to try a vial of Grandma's Bird Curd?

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