As a follow up to last week’s laundry post, here is the way they made soap at home according to an article in The Foxfire Book.
When fireplaces were cleaned the ashes were placed in a container that allowed water to seep through. Some were handmade ash hoppers that were made of wood with a paper liner and straw in the bottom to keep the ashes from falling out. The hopper was slanted with a wood pour spout that let the lye drip into the holding container. Water was poured onto the ashes several times during the day and a brown liquid would drip out and be caught. That was the lye used in the soap.
After enough lye has been made, a large wash pot with water is put in a fire and the fire kept hot. In the pot is put a combination of one gallon of lye to two pounds of lard/grease. According to the book, lard (hog fat) was best, but they would use beef tallow, mutton tallow, or bear fat. If they didn’t have enough of one, they’d mix the fats. This was stirred and kept boiling until it was thick like jelly.
If a scented soap was wanted this was the time to add the scent.
Most of the soap remained soft and was kept in a hollowed out log and covered with a plank, then dipped out when needed. Due to the caustic nature of lye, wood was the only thing that wouldn’t get disintegrated in a year.
Mutton and beef tallow made harder soap and could be poured or cut into bars.