Soap – Memories of the Past
I am always struck oddly when we are at an event and someone comes to the table and says “Well look at that, homemade soap! Reminds me of my childhood”. This exclamation usually is followed by sweet memories of childhood, of a special day set aside just to make the soap. In many visitors minds they see us huddled around a big kettle over an open fire, slowly cooking fats down to soap. Not our method!! And it is a reminder that in times past families scraped together what they could to save. One visitor was astonished that anyone would sell homemade soap. Her memories were that of rendered animal fats, cooked down until they were ready, then lye added, and often a hand full of oatmeal, or some of the fresh herbs from the garden to take away from the heavy animal fat smell.
“We don’t use animal products in our soap!” is the reminder we give to anyone who shares this memory. Visitors are often astonished that vegetable oils, olive oil, palm oil can be turned into a hard solid cold processed soap that has rich lather, and gentle cleaning capabilities. But the method of soap making we practice is known as “cold process”. There has to be some chemistry, careful measurement, and careful respect for the ingredients. But our soap starts with two large pans. One is the blend of oils we will be using for the recipe, heated slightly to blend them. The other pan is a careful measurement of water (cool tap water) with a careful measure of lye. When the lye is added to the water the temperature rises to a very high temperature through chemical reaction. This lye solution must cool to be equal the temperature of the oils when combined. And we use a blender stick to efficiently incorporate the oils with the lye solution, and when blended and thickened to a pudding consistency (soap makers call this “tracing”) we add any botanicals, essential oils, and color agents, blend slightly and immediately pour into our molds.
No, it is not hours slaving over a hot fire, hot kettle, rendering fats. But it is a rather quick process. Once the soap is in the mold it must sit for at least a day before being unmolded to cure.
Cold process only soap must cure for 3-4 weeks before we can sell it, as the chemical process is still going on, and the soap may have not reached a neutral pH until the full cure is completed.
We have also learned a step to speed up the curing time, which is known as cold process oven process. After the soap is put in the molds, the molds are then
put in a 170 degree oven for 1 hour, then permitted to sit in a cooling oven over night. Cure time is reduced to 1 day because of the introduction of that hour of heat. This method works for most recipes. We cannot do the oven process step for any soap containing honey, milk products, or oatmeal. These recipes have to do the air cure for 3-4 weeks.
We could never adequately change the minds of those who share a memory of mom making homemade soap. Modern methods are more efficient, and in our case we are pleased they are vegan, containing no animal products at all.