Ever since we put our first beef in the freezer, I’ve wanted to try making soap. There were suddenly so many jars of creamy-colored tallow taking up the kitchen shelf. I read about it, and bought some lye, but I never was brave enough to make the attempt. Caustic lye, plus the possibility of an explosion was too scary. I made tallow/beeswax candles with the children instead (only the danger of hot wax and fire to contend with).
Having recently made the switch to cooking and heating with wood these days, we find ourselves with an abundance of wood ashes. Some are going on the garden, orchard and pastures, but Ethan finally broke through the soap barrier and tried his hand at making lye out of them.
It was a big undertaking. He poured over the soap-making chapter in the Foxfire books, and built a contraption to run hot water through the ashes. The most difficult part was that there wasn’t much in the way of directions for making the lye. The soap was well documented, but it only mentioned in passing how to make lye. I wasn’t there at the time, but the children said it was a big job. I just came home to a big mess and one of my nice baking pans filled with a scummy, tallowy substance caked on top of sludgy grey water.
But it did turn out in the end to be soap. It cured nicely, and has an interesting smell like sugar cookies. We realize now that it needed a stronger lye for a better lather, but it is nice to be able to wash with home-grown soap!