A journal of our day to day; homesteading and homeschooling in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Soap Making from Scratch
Today was soap making day. It had been so long since I'd made soap from scratch (a year and a half), that I'd forgotten the steps involved and had to thoroughly re-read the instructions more than once. There is only one store in town that sells Lye or Sodium Hydroxide, as far as I know of and that is Samson's Hardware. They recently moved locations and during the meantime I couldn't find lye anywhere and it is not one of those ingredients that you can just get online and order. I do have a recipe for making lye from wood ash but that is one of those projects that I wouldn't undertake just for the fun of it, although I feel prepared having the printed recipe stashed away. Over the last few days I've been looking at recipes and taking stock of what I have on hand. Fortunately between my friend and myself we had most of what we needed. Unfortunately it had been so long since we'd made soap together last that I'd stored away some of my supplies so well that I couldn't find them. In the past my girlfriend and I have made soap together as well as lotions, lip balms and candles. We both stay fairly stocked on supplies so it was nice not have to buy much, er anything. Last time we made soap we got together at my house where we had both kids here and Avery was only a couple months old at the time. D had been here to watch the kids but needless to say our four batches of soap took us late into the night whereas today we made the same amount of soap in five hours and that included lunch and cookie breaks.
The most dangerous part is measuring the lye and adding it to the water. It is recommended that you wear safety goggles and gloves, I've got my eyes protected at least. I was relieved not to have to worry about pets or kids under foot. Once the lye is added stir carefully and don't splash! The temperatures rise quickly into the high hundreds. After stirring for a minute set the bowl somewhere safe, in our case we'd set it outside to cool and then check it every so often with an instant read thermometer. The temperature has to come down to between eighty and a hundred for most recipes.
Just when you are starting to take a breath the fumes blow your way and should not be inhaled if possible. Can't be good for you.
Next step is measuring the liquid or solid oils. Liquid oils go into the mixer. An accurate scale is a must. Liquid oils can include olive oil, wheat germ oil, almond, avacado, and castor oil just to name a few.
Solid oils get measured into a saucepan and heated until liquid then cooled to between eighty and a hundred depending on the recipe. In most of our recipes coconut oil and palm oil made up the bulk of our solid oils. Although we also used cocoa butter and vegetable shortening. Other solids may be shea butter, mango butter etc.
Once the lye and oils are cooled to the appropriate temperature, carefully add the lye to the oils while mixing at low speed. Mixing takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes or more. You know it is finished mixing when a spoon dribbled on the top leaves a trace. In this picture you can see that the spatula drippings are still melding back into the mixture, that is the trace, and it is ready for the goodies. Then you add extra ingredients that you wouldn't have wanted to evaporate or cooked off like essential oils, honey ( if you want the raw properties of the honey) colorants, oatmeal, herbs, flowers etc.
Then it is time to pour your soap into a mold. This time we just used boxes lined with waxed paper and some greased pyrex pans. Previously we've used pvc pipe for round soap bars, soap molds, loofahs and we've rolled soap into balls once it has cooled overnight. The soap sits covered overnight and continues to heat up and saponify, or in another word; cook. The following day, take the lid of and let the soap sit undisturbed in a not too cool or drafty location until it is hard enough to cut, anywhere from a couple days to a week. Don't wait too long, or it will be too hard to cut, luckily we haven't had that problem yet but I can imagine. After that you lay the bars onto paper bags to cure for a few weeks. It gets milder and gentler with curing. At some point flip the bars over so both sides get air.
All four soaps look and smell beautiful. You can see that the green soap has a textured surface because it finished mixing and cooling quicker than the others and took us by surprise so when we poured it in we had to try and smooth the top with the spatula. The recipes we used are out of Susan Miller Cavitch's The Soapmaker's Companion. On a side note, if you are buying a book on making soap make sure that the recipes are actually from scratch, at least if that is what you want. I once bought a book on how to make soap and when I got home and started reading the recipes they just called for plain soap which you then dressed up with extras and molded to your fancy.
The top recipe is a rich white soap with rose petals and scented with jasmine, ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils. The peachy soap is colored with annatto seed oil and specked with safflower threads. It is scented with Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon and Orange essential oils, very fruity and citrusy.
The Green soap is in two containers, making do with what we had. It is colored with spirulina and scented with Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Cedarwood and Rosemary essential oils, invigorating and refreshing. And the pinkish looking soap is called EIEIO. We had made it before using goats milk and farm eggs. This time I forgot to take goats milk so we had to use store bought milk that my friend had in her fridge, dope! But we did use my own calendula flowers, along with lavender buds, oatmeal, bee propolis, honey, local eggs and we scented it with lavender, lemongrass and orange essential oil , (mostly smells like lavender which is what we wanted with a hint of citrus). Can't wait to check out the bars once they are cut and curing. Should be enough soap till fall, as long as I don't give away too much. The problem with making several different types is you never can decide which type to give someone and end up giving away too much. Soap making is time consuming and expensive when you use quality ingredients. I'll be treasuring this soap, and it was a fun day too boot!
I am a stay at home mom taking care of our two young children, a small herd of dairy goats, chickens, ducks and at times various other critters. We are trying to produce as much of our own food as possible on our eight and three quarter acres of boreal hillside forest. We milk our goats, drink raw milk and make cheese. We raise enough poultry to meet our egg and chicken meat needs. We are working towards growing enough vegetables in our short season to get us through our long winters. General interests include: herbal medicine making, preserving food through canning, dehydrating, juicing and lacto fermentation, baby wearing, cloth diapering, yoga, making my own lotions, cosmetics, home cleansers and anything else I can think of. Someday I'll make time for: ceramics, spinning, weaving and painting.
The here and now of our homestead is what I'm writing about. Compelled by a sense that we are participating in something significant, heading back to our roots... this is my attempt to share what we are learning along our journey. For those of you on similar paths, whether you are raising kids, a flock of chickens, a couple goats or run a farm, well I'm hoping to learn from you as well, so feel free to put in your two cents!