Thursday, February 3, 2011

What do you get?

What do you get when you mix 2 and a half pints of water dripped through ashes and boiled down to six pounds of a mixture of venison and pork lard? My first batch of truly home-made soap, I hope!

I got the inspiration from the abundance of tallow and fat on two animals I harvested hunting. I rendered down the combined fatty tissue and thought it might make interesting soap. Now we'd made soap back in dark ages when our oldest son's skin took a dislike to commercial laundry soap perfumes and conditioners. We used cloth diapers on his little heiny (yes, we were really old-fashioned!) and the best soap to use was stuff we made out of the left-over frying fat from a local cafeteria that they were glad to give us, and Red Devil Lye. We've still got some of our last patch, and after almost 30 years it's snow white and super-mellow!

But I didn't want to buy lye for this batch. I had obtained the fat from the natural world, I wanted to get all the ingredients that way. Online I found you could leech lye from ashes, so I got a 10 ft. piece of 4 inch PCV drainpipe, put reducers on one end of it down to where the exit hold was a quarter of an inch, filled it with ashes from the fireplace, and dripped filtered water through it (we have an RO filter in the house.) I recycled the water about four times. It turned out the color of light tea, but according to my sources it wasn't strong enough. It should float an egg high enough to expose a piece of shell the size of a quarter. So I set it to boil. After reducing it to a little less than half the volume I had the right strength.

But now I needed to know how much lye to mix with how much fat. Online it gave such unspecific things as "mix it together a small amount of each until it 'trails,'" that is, leaves a trail of fat behind the spoon as you mix. Finally I stumbled on a ratio of 2 1/2 pints of lye to 6 lbs. of fat. I measured the lye--it was 2 2/1 pints! I then melted the fat again and weighed it out--I had just over 6 lbs. Ah, it was meant to be.

I mixed the fat into the hot lye water and stirred. I had to heat the mixture to melt some of the fat that had not melted, but in the end it turned into a thick mixture the color of dark hot cocoa. I mixed it for our five times over the next hour and went to the office.

That evening it was a bit lighter, had the consistency of soft oatmeal, and looked like the cocoa had curdled. I mixed it and mixed it and slowly it began to homogenize together into a light-brown thick soup, and it began to thicken more. I lined a cardboard box with some cloth, and when it seemed it wouldn't just all run out I poured it into the mould.

This morning it was the consistency of play-dough, so I turned it out on a board and cut it into 38 small bars. I rearranged the pieces on the board with the cloth underneath them and put them on top of the freezer in the garage to cure. In about 3 months we'll see what we've got!

Ever heard the song, "Grandma's Lye Soap?"

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