Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Home-made soap, it's so gentle on your skin. Hard to believe since it is made with lye, fat, and water. But then think about the fact that hydrogen and oxygen, two gases that are both flammable, makes up water which is used to put a fire out. Then maybe it's not so hard to imagine. One of the things I love about home-made soap is its high water content. This makes it gentle on the skin and it lasts longer than commercial soap that sucks up the water and disappears down the drain. When our children left home and they experienced the soap from the store it didn't take them long to call home and ask for a few bars. Their skin had erupted in protest.

If anyone tells you that they remember their grandmother's soap was harsh, then they probably added kerosene or ammonia or some other nasty harsh ingredient that was a hold over from the pioneer days when such things were often added. And, don't let someone convince you that it smells either. Old rancid fat can do that and soap made from old bacon grease if the old grease isn't cleaned properly.

My Aunt Ila use to save her bacon grease, for soap making. Wish I had not just heard about it but had watched her making a batch. I've never tried it as we butcher beef and pigs which gives us an abundant supply of tallow and lard. The white dry crumbly fat is what I look for and save. It makes the best soap. If your not saving the leaf lard from the kidney area of your hog for pie dough, then it makes excellent soap. The fat from the same area on the beef is just as good. Some of you don't butcher your own meat so you may not be able to sift through the fat like I do for the most choice pieces but do ask your butcher to save the fat and grind it for you. You can freeze it until your ready to make soap. I always render mine first thing so that when I freeze it it doesn't take up as much room or--if when you are cooling it in the refrigerator and it never makes it to the freezer like my last batch.

(Rendered fat)
To render fat means to cook it over a low heat until you have a light yellow liquid and cracklins which are grisly fat and meat clumps that look like fried extra fat hamburger. I give mine to the barn cats but some people cook with their cracklins. The ground fat renders quicker and at a lower heat so that you don't have smelly dark soap. To separate the cracklins from the fat I put cheese cloth in the bottom of a cow milk strainer instead of a milk strainer pad and pour the fat in. I change the cheese cloth and do this again to achieve a clearer liquid.

When the kids were all home, I made enough soap to fill our hygiene needs and to do our laundry. So I needed a lot of fat and it came from the lambs, beef, hogs, and an occasionally extra fat deer. I guess I've grown lazy for now I just make hand soap. The colors and scents that people add has never appealed to me since I'm hypersensitive to it. Oatmeal, lanolin, honey, and Calundala flowers are the only additions I've ever made, not all together.

The Calundala flowers are extra soothing on the skin and mine are volunteers as they reseed themselves in my front yard year after year. I pluck off the blossoms and dry them on a cookie sheet. Then when I'm making soap, I pour boiling water over the top of the dried blossoms and putting a lid on top steeping them like a cup of herbal infusion. After draining the liquid off the flowers, I add water to the infusion to equal five cups. Thirteen ounces of lye is mixed with this inside an old plastic gallon jug out in the garage since the fumes will burn your throat and the liquid gets really hot, a chemical reaction from mixing water and lye.

(Note the change in the liquid fat's color when the lye water mixture is added)

In this photo, I'm mixing the lye and water mixture that has cooled considerably. The gallon container on the outside feels warm to my hand. If you are a beginner use a thermometer until your hands have become old pros and can tell by touch. Warm the rendered fat until it has turned from the white firm mass into a liquid. Once again use a thermometer. I then pour in the lye, water mixture slowly and stir as it is added. Wear gloves as the lye and water is caustic at this stage. The best way to get your soap to set up quickly is to buy a cheap mixer, one of those that is tube shaped and is used to make shakes etc. It will help the water, lye mixture and fat to completely mix together and not separate out later and it greatly speeds up the whole process.

When the mixture is soaponifying (turning white and thick) and you pick up your mixer and the dripping liquid forms a trails on top, then you can pour into your molds. I use a plastic storage container that has been greased with Vaseline so the soap comes out easier. The containers lid is handy for it goes on next and the whole thing is wrapped in towels so that the soap doesn't cool too quickly and the mixture separate out into fat and lye water again. A few hours later you cut the soap into bars and the soap is popped out onto butcher paper to set for three weeks. This is needed for the residual lye that may linger on the outside of the bars to evaporate off and the soap is then gentle for your skin.

So as this blog doesn't drag on forever I'll give you some books to read if you want to make soap. I used Back To Basics by Reader's Digest when I first made soap. I also have The Complete Soapmaker by Norma Coney. It is especially handy if you wish to expand and use a variety of ingredients. I thought I might expand out and do different things with my soap making one day but that day hasn't come. The hand mixer trick was given to me by a gal at the National Dairy Goat Show when it was in Gillette, Wyoming.

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