Sunday, March 18, 2012

Something Else I Take For Granted

"In the city, I believe, it is better to exchange ashes and grease for soap; but in the country, I am certain, it is good economy to make one's own soap.  If you burn wood, you can make your own lye; but the ashes of coal is not worth much.  Bore small holes in the bottom of a barrel, place four bricks around, and fill the barrel with ashes.  Wet the ashes well, but not enough to drop; let it soak thus three or four cays; then pour a gallon of water in every hour or two, for a day or more, and let it drop into a pail or tub beneath.  Keep it dripping until the color of the lye shows the strength is exhausted.  If your lye is not strong enough, you must fill your barrel with fresh ashes, and let the lye run through it.  Some people take a barrel without any bottom, and lay sticks and straw across to prevent the ashes from falling through.  To make a barrel of soap, it will require about five or six bushels of ashes, with at least four quarts of unslacked stone lime; if slacked, double the quantity.

When you have drawn off a part of the lye, put the lime (whether slack or not) into two or three pails of boiling water, and add it to the ashes, and let it drain through.

It is the practice of some people, in making soap, to put the lime near the bottom of the ashes when they first set it up; but the lime becomes like mortar, and the lye does not run through, so as to get the strength of it, which is very important in making soap, as it contracts the nitrous salts which collect in ashes, and prevents the soap from coming, (as the saying is.)  Old ashes are very apt to be impregnated with it.

Three pounds of grease should be put into a pailful of lye.  The great difficulty in making soap 'come' originates in want of judgment about the strength of the lye.  One rule may be safely trusted -- If your lye will bear up an egg, or a potato, so that you can see a piece of the surface as big as ninepence, it is just strong enough.  If it sink below the top of the lye, it is too weak, and will never make soap; if it is buoyed up half way, the lye is too strong; and that is just as bad.  A bit of quick-lime, thrown in while the lye and grease are boiling together, is of service.  When the soap becomes thick and ropy, carry it down cellar in pails and empty it into a barrel.

Cold soap is less trouble, because it does not need to boil; the sun does the work of fire.  The lye must be prepared and tried in the usual way.  The grease must be tried out, and strained from the scraps.  Two pounds of grease (instead of three) must be used to a pailful; unless the weather is very sultry, the lye should be hot when put to the grease.  It should stand in the sun, and be stirred every day.  If it does not begin to look like soap in the course of five or six days, add a little hot lye to it; if this does not help it, try whether it be grease that it wants.  Perhpas you will think cold soap wasteful, because the grease must be strained; but if the scraps are boiled thoroughly in strong lye, the grease will all float upon the surface, and nothing be lost."

The American Frugal Housewife, by Mrs. Lydia Marie Child.  You may download a free pdf of this cookbook from the Michigan State University site, Feeding America.

I imagine that this was a chore saved for the first warm and sunny spring weekend (like today), using a winter's accumulation of ashes and also the cooking fats that had been set aside in a cool place until soap-making day arrived.  I also imagine this soap was awfully hard on the skin.


Ladytats said...

Hi Shay, I have located my copy of of The Every-Day Cook-Book and encyclopedia of Practical Recipes for family use by Miss E. Neil published by M.A. Donahue & Company in Chicago in 1886.
so today I posted another recipe for soap as you have inspired me to occasionally post some things from the book.
I always enjoy reading your posts. Thanks

Kristen said...

I really enjoy these posts, too - I've found tons of neat things to read via you. And I've actually read this book. :)

Packrat said...

For some silly reason, I never thought much about making soap past saving the ashes, rendering the fat, and something about boiling kettles. This recipe doesn't even mention rendering. Maybe that is just taken for granted because people made their own lard. I do, however, know that strong lye soap will just about remove the top layer of your skin. Thanks.

Oh, and please send some spring weather this direction.