A Little Soap Making History and Goals for 2022.
Hello everyone and welcome back. I hope you are having a good winter so far. Here on the coast of Maine, with the exception of a few days, it's been pretty mild. We just don't have the winters we had when I was a kid. I remember lots of snow, sometimes almost covering the windows. Often after a big storm we were unable to get down the road unless you had a snowmobile because the plows were busy clearing the main highway. As I write this, there is barely any snow on the ground, but we do have ice which can be treacherous. I had to sand part of my pasture yesterday before I could let my horse out. Old Boman will be 31 this spring and his eyesight isn't what it used to be; I was afraid he would slip and fall.
Januarys are cold, dark, and long; the perfect time of year to tackle projects you have been procrastinating about. I started one of those projects recently which spurred the idea for this blog. It is something I've wanted to do for a while - making old fashioned soaps; I'm calling them Heirloom Soaps. No, I'm not collecting wood ash or rendering pig fat, but I have gone back to the original recipes I started with so many years ago. These recipes only use a handful of ingredients, nothing fancy. So far on the curing racks I have an egg soap, a rose hip bar, and a loaf made with tomato. They are scented with essential oils and if colored at all I used plant extracts. I realized after taking my annual inventory of supplies earlier this month, just how complicated (not to mention costly) some of my recipes were getting. It's so easy now, with all the choices of exotic oils, clays from around the world, and luxurious butters, to get carried away with ingredients. But do they really make soap that much better? I'm sure other soap makers would debate me on this, but some of my favorite bars are still the ones with the least ingredients.
So how did they make soap back in the day? Our great great grand Mother’s made soap using potash from wood ash and lard from the fat of their pigs. The fat was boiled in water to melt it down and loosen up any undesirable bits such as skin so it could be removed. This process would often be done three times to make sure it was clean. After it cooled overnight the solid, clean fat would be floating on top. To make the potash, ash collected from their woodstoves was put in a barrel on top of a layer of straw. Rainwater would slowly be poured over the top of the ash; it would flow out the bottom through drainage holes and collected in a pan underneath. Today we call this lye. The strength of the potash was tested with a chicken feather; if the feather dissolved it was considered just right. They would then make the soap in a large kettle over a fire; soap makers today still use a process similar to this and it’s referred to as hot process. Often, the soap back then was soft and dark tan in color. It would irritate the skin because the lye content was so high. Shea butter was a luxury for the well to do, and olive oil soap was only available in the countries where it was made such as Italy. I think they did pretty well with what they had.
As well as making simpler soaps, another goal for 2022 is to decrease the amount of plastic I use in my business. Presently, I use a biodegradable shrink wrap on my soaps. I took a poll on Facebook and asked about switching away from that and using boxes or just a cigar band type wrap. Over 90% of my followers who answered said they liked the shrink wrap; it enabled them to see the design and they could smell through it. Because it is biodegradable, I will keep it. My shampoo, conditioner bars, and solid dish soap are a hit as I think my customers feel better about not having another plastic bottle to toss away. I am contemplating using glass jars and bottles instead of plastic for my scrubs, lotions, and sprays. Using glass would raise the cost though, so I have to give this more thought. Input from all of you would be appreciated as well. The plastic containers I presently use are recyclable just as the glass would be but is this happening? If it were glass, would you be more apt to recycle it? Please let me know your thoughts on this. Should I stay with the plastic or move to glass?
So, what are your goals and projects for this year? Did you set any New Year's resolutions? Have you stuck with them? I'm always interested in hearing from my customers. And as always if you have any questions or ideas for another blog feel free to contact me.