[Herbalist] Soap- How would they Have created Lye?

Maggie MacDonald maggie5 at cox.net
Sun Feb 1 15:50:16 PST 2004

At 02:37 PM 2/1/2004,Kathleen Keeler said something like:
>I made soap at the Lilies War twice, by collecting ash from campfires, and 
>pouring water through it.  The water dissolves the right salts from the 
>ash to make lye.  You concentrate the lye by evaporating off the water.
>Good strong lye is coffee-colored.
>For soap,  you add a fat to that, heat and stir.  It saponifies.
>I used bacon fat from the weeks' breakfasts.   1 TBSP fat or less to 
>(memory inexact) a quart (gallon?) of lye.  So a lot of ashes makes a 
>bucket of lye water  which simmers down to a quart.  Add a little fat. 
>Heat over the fire for hours until the water is far enough gone that it 
>When I added salt (as instructed by HL Annalies who is Calontir's major 
>soapmaker) I got a more or less solid product, without the salt it stayed 
>very soft.
>And, my yield was less than a half cup of slightly-bacon-smelling soap, 
>but it was soap.
>I actually started out planning to make soap to clean the camping 
>dishes.  In fact, you can clean dishes just fine with sand and water (if 
>you don't have germ theory).  Its tricky to make this soap have enough fat 
>to appeal for washing hands...mostly it had too high a lye content.  But 
>what I think would have made it worth while to go to all this effort in 
>early Period was to clean textiles.
>Mag Mor Calontir

This discussion had me curious, so I dug out one of the oral family 
histories I have kicking around, and there is a description of one of my 
g-grandmothers and her training.  She was semi-orphaned at a very young 
age, and was brought up by family friends for most of her child 
hood.  Later in life she choose to be trained as a housekeeper, as that was 
a very respectable profession for women of her class.

One of the things described was how she would make soap.  She would keep 
all the leftover grease from cooking (and fat scraps from animal 
slaughter), then boil/render them 3 times with clean water. That would be 
bring to a boil for a while, let cool til it solidified, scrape the nasty 
chunks off the bottom of the chunk of grease, then repeat (for a total of 3 
times).  I'm wondering if she used the bacon grease, if that wouldn't have 
salt already in it.  She also used the grease for storing chunks of fried 
rabbit over winter (fry the rabbit, pour grease over it to cover completely 
let it solidify, then store in the root cellar).

She collected the wood ash, then ran the water through the ashes up to 3 
times, until an egg would float on the water that ran out the 
bottom.  Apparently running the water through could take quite a while, so 
that was also a patience project.

Apparently she made enough, and it was of good enough quality that she sold 
it to the store over in Nephi.  This explains the family's odd insistence 
on that can on the back of the stove that all the bacon grease goes into.

Maggie MacD. 

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