Monday, December 6, 2010

Ritual sacrifice of a wooden spoon

For aaaages now, almost my whole life I think, I have wanted to have a go at making soap. I think that's because my Mum used to make it, and it was a terrifying and very grown up activity because it involved hot mutton fat and caustic soda. Excuse me while I answer your questions: Yes my Mum did make soap out of mutton fat. No it did not smell like a roast dinner. No she did not make us wash ourselves with it, it was for washing the clothes, or the floor.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the soap. At the age of 38 I have deemed myself grown up enough to give true soap making a go. I was a little put off by the long list of equipment that most instructions deemed necessary (special soap-making pot, two thermometers, a stick blender, etc. etc.). When I mentioned this off-putting list of needs to my Mum she chortled and gave me "the mother look" and then pointed out that people have been making soap for thousands of years without that long list of stuff. Good point, mother bear, good point.

So, I bought some lye from these kind people, who have a soap shop near my house, and I bought everything else at Binn Inn or the supermarket. I did not use a thermometer at all and all my mixing was carried out not with a stick blender but with a wooden spoon, which is now marked "soap only". I used stainless steel bowls for the lye and the soap mixture itself, and then washed them out carefully and popped them back in the kitchen cupboards afterwards. They have never looked cleaner, incidentally.

I followed a basic castile recipe here, and followed all of their links re. using a lye calculator and the basic soap making instructions. I added a couple of things, so I will write the full recipe here for the sake of interest.

800 g olive oil
200 g coconut oil
20 g beeswax
133 g lye
300 ml water
2 T honey added at 'early trace'
5 ml manuka oil (a complete waste of time, as you can't smell it at all)
And, to half of the batch, I added some oatmeal, because that seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I'm not so sure because it looks a little, well, horse-food-esque. Still, you live and learn. Anyway, badabing, badaboom, soap.

So there it is. If I die tomorrow I can consider my life fulfilled. Sometimes I wonder about what things my children will remember fondly, and what things they will roll their eyes about, when they recall their childhood. I have a feeling that my crazy schemes will not all be remembered fondly.
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  1. I love it! now I have to put that on my list of things to do beofre I die! hehe, you'll all be squeaky clean for months now - yay.

  2. Nice work! The bars look great! I too have been considering making soap for ages but don't yet feel grown up enough to do it. It's on the list though! Nice to see others giving it a go.

  3. I made real soap once but I didn't put lovely things in it like you did. I also used draino instead of proper lye (ahem it worked so why not). I gave some to my boyfriend when we broke up (just in case it you know, burnt skin or something) and apparently it makes a great 'man soap' cos it doesn't lather.

  4. Add this to the list of things you've inspired me to do. I adore handmade soap, I keep telling myself to just make some already. I think this will be a January project.

  5. Nonsense - your crazy schemes will be remembered very fondly. I don't think making soap is crazy I just can't ever see myself doing it. It's like the lemons falling from our tree and rotting on the ground. Could make all sorts of things with them but I won't. I'd be the kind of person of whom it is said, 'life gives her a lemon tree and do you think she makes ho ho.. she makes compost.'

  6. Soap looks wonderful. When I read 'ritual sacrifice' I immediately thought of 'The Wicker Man' so a spoon doesn't seem too great a loss. When life gives me lemons I make peel.

  7. Making soap is on my list too. Just like the washing powder. Basically it's a list of 'how to be cool like Jenny'.

  8. Mmm, they look lovely, and I'll bet they smell good, too. I've never done this, having always been too scared of the lye. Now I feel confident!

  9. ooh, inspiring, miss smith! i've been wanting to make this kind of soap for ages. last year i made the 'french milled' kind, but it felt a bit like trainer-soap.
    hooray for your mum and her practicality.

  10. Hey, that soap looks excellent!! You know, living in a hall I kind of miss being even slightly domestic. At least in my flat I would clean, make muesli, hang washing on the line... And Im pretty sure, if I had a flat, I would be making soap after reading this post!!
    Hope the lead up to christmas isn't too crazy for you guys. It's surprisingly un-christmasy around here.

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  12. You are so inspiring. My mum asked for soap (of the organic professional kind) for xmas and I did have a little goggle to see how it was done at home. I too was kind of dismayed by the huge list of instructions and the inherent scariness of lye. Your soap looks great though. Must give it a go sometime

  13. Oh, beautiful looking soap! I can't believe you hand mixed it. I tried that with my first batch and hit took soooooooo long, and then it turns out it hadn't saponified properly, and I rebatched and eventually just had to throw out.
    Be careful with the wooden spoon. I remember reading in my soap making books that the lye will splinter the wood over time and little slivers can get in your batch.