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The soap I grew up with

December 8, 2008

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Grated laundry soap.

Out of all the soap I have made over the years, this basic cold process, “homesteaders” soap is what I have made and used the most consistently.  The grater in the picture is actually a soap grater, made by the Fels Naptha Co. for their soap.  It belonged to HD’s grandma, who lived out her life in Anaconda, Montana.

Soap making with friends is like a quilting bee, I have many memories of making soap with friends, some good, some not so good.  I was making soap with my “girlfriends” (the group ranged in age from me at 27, to the soap host at 72) when the phone rang, and it was someone calling me to tell me that HD had rolled my brothers dump truck and broke his neck.  Then they hung up.  Since I was the youngest, it was my job to stir the soap pot until trace, (only in one direction too) but they let me leave to go see what had happened.  Another time, when I was stirring a pot of soap the dogcatchers showed up looking for my Belle.  It seemed she had snarled at one of our neighborhood joggers and he turned us in.  He neglected to mention to animal control that his horse was out weekly seeking food and that we always brought it home for him…but I talked the dog cops down, and we didn’t get a ticket.  But the soap didn’t set too well, we called it Dog Catcher soap, it was curdled and looked strange, but it actually cleaned just fine.

But my best collection of sudsy memories is from my surrogate grandparents, babysitters, gardening mentors.  I’m not really sure what title to give them, you might remember that I’m growing on their seeds, and they gave me my milking stool, and a lifetime of good memories.  They always made soap out of their beef tallow and pork lard.  At washing time, she would take her paring knife out of her apron pocket and grab a bar of soap and while the wringer washer was agitating, she would shave off some soap into the water.  After the soap was dissolved, she would add the clothes.  They were subsistence farmers, and he worked at the wool pullery, so he would get dirty.  The homemade laundry soap worked it’s wonders.  They died long ago, but their grandson lives on their farm now.  When his oldest child graduated from high school, we went to the graduation party.  When we stepped on the back porch, the smell stopped me in my tracks and I was transported back to my childhood.  The smell of that soap permeated those wooden walls.  It had been decades since soap had been made and used there, but the clean scent of that soap lingered. 

This soap is actually a frugal soap, with the lye being the only thing purchased off the farm.  I usually use rendered tallow and lard, but to be really frugal, you could make this from waste fat from cooking.  To save cooking fat, keep a coffee can just for this purpose in your refrigerator or freezer.  If you live in a cold climate it wouldn’t have to be refrigerated.  Once you have enough waste fat saved for a batch of soap, you boil it with an equal part of water, and let cool.  All impurities and flavorings, etc., will be a gel and the fat will be clean enough for soap making.

See tutorial on previous post for complete basic soap making instructions and tool list.  The procedure is the same, just different ingredients.

This is the recipe that used to be on the Red Devil lye can.
Yield:  9# of soap

1 qt cold water
13 oz lye
6 lbs of fat – I use 3 lbs of beef tallow, and 3 lbs of pork lard.

Add lye slowly to cold water.  While it is cooling, measure and melt tallow and lard.  When fats reach 100*F and the lye solution reaches 80*F, slowly add lye to melted fats and stir methodically until the “soap” is honey consistency, about 30 minutes.  Pour into mold.  Cover and leave up to 2 days.  Cut into bars with a knife or cord.  Cure bars in open air for at least three weeks, before using as hand soap.  For laundry purposes you could use it sooner.

The longer your soap cures the milder it will be.  If you use it after 3 weeks and your skin feels slick, it still has active lye in it.  It is reacting with the oils on your skin.  It won’t burn you, but I wouldn’t bathe with it for awhile. 😉

All beef tallow makes the soap too hard, all pork lard soap will be too soft.  A combination of both makes a nice batch of soap. 



10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2008 4:39 am

    Another great post about soaps Nita, your a wealth of knowledge. You sure do have some great memories from growing up.

  2. December 9, 2008 5:03 am

    I can never say enough about how much I appreciate your blog! Incidentally, the comment about the knife in your Gma’s apron brings up a good point…is there any certain knife you recommend for keeping with you at all times, for the random things you always need a knife for? I frequently find myself sneaking one of Josh’s good (read: offendingly expensive) chef’s knives for things he’d be none too pleased to know I was using them for!

  3. December 9, 2008 7:09 am

    I just want you to know that I REALLY enjoy your blog! Thank you for adding such a nice bit information to my life!


  4. December 9, 2008 5:50 pm

    Soap making is something I plan to try next spring. I have been very slowly but surely collecting supplies. I have what I think is pork lard at the grocery store. I wonder where I can find beef tallow in the city? Thank for posting these great tutorials. I love reading about your life and getting ideas.

  5. December 9, 2008 7:17 pm

    I haven’t made soap in a long while. Do you smell it up (as the Bossman says) with anything?

  6. December 10, 2008 2:16 pm

    I remember a partially shaved block of soap and a grater on the shelf at my grandparent’s house. My great grandma lived with them, and she preferred the old ways of washing clothes by hand with a washboard. My grandma preferred it, too, for some things, but eventually converted to a washing machine. We had the same machine as my grandma; one that had an external wringer that you swung over the utility sink and manually cranked the clothes through. Anyway … that’s way off the topic of soap. When I saw the grater and you mentioned the smell of your friend’s house, it transported me back to my youth. As always, great post.

    Do you make lotions, too? I’d love to learn more about that.

  7. kews permalink
    December 11, 2008 3:07 pm

    I love catching up here. Your posts are always so informative — I’m always learning something. Boy, Trace really is coming into his own. Fingers crossed that Della’s preggers. 🙂

  8. Lisa permalink
    December 14, 2008 4:58 am

    Hi there matron of husbandry,
    I found your blog through women not dabbling in normal,love that name.I’ve been reading your archives and I must say that yours is one of my favorites.The Steiner quote is what first caught my eye.I work at the only camphill for children here in PA,so I live with his presence every day.
    Anyway,wanted to let you know I also make a “pioneer”soap,I use caustic soda flakes from the ag store/feed mill.I believe they are intended for unclogging drains.It’s very coarse,but it does the job and is really cheap.I bought 5 # years ago’it will last a long,long time.

  9. December 19, 2008 7:47 am

    Kim, thanks! You know your kids will have great memories too!

    Amanda, I carry an OLD TIMER pocketknife with me all the time. But if to harvest I take my OXO paring knife with me to the garden, and in the barn I have a big Martha Stewart chef knife for chopping roots. I got that really cheap at KMART and it has been a good knife.

    linda, thank you!

    Barb J. you should be able to get beef tallow at a butcher shop, they will save it for you if you ask. Sometimes it is free.
    Thanks for the kind words.

    Linda, nope no foo foo.

    Paula, love your memories of your grandparents and great grandma! 🙂 I haven’t made lotions, just salves and balms.

    Karen, Trace is a joy. He is so much like Belle, but also has his own personality, I’m in love. 🙂

    Lisa, Hi thanks for stopping by, I wish a feed mill was nearby, although I did find a soap supply house nearby that has will-call. The lye I bought was actually cheaper than when I used to buy the Red Devil.

    How very interesting that you work at the Camphill – the Waldorf school is in town and doesn’t really delve too much into the farming and gardening aspect. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. amanadoo permalink
    December 19, 2008 9:13 am

    Thanks for the always great advice!

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