A few years ago I decided to learn how to do all the things that my Grandma did. The first thing on this list was to make home made lye soap. She was always so proud of her soap. I know she made hers in a great big cast iron kettle in the back yard. Well, I don't have a big kettle like that and my husband (and probably my neighbors too) would think I had completely gone off my rocker if I dragged up some wood and started a big fire in the back yard so I researched methods of doing it in the kitchen. I found a lot of books in the library on soap making, but all of them wanted me to have a lot of equipment that I didn't have and was unwilling to buy since I didn't know if I would like making soap and if it would be worth the expense. Then, when I was about to give up I ran across a recipe for soap making in an old cookbook that I already owned that was published in 1942.
Mix 1 quart cold water and 1 lb. can lye in a stone jar, or granite pot (I had to call my Mom and ask her what a granite pot was and it just happened that I had one of those that I use for canning, but I call it an enamel pot). Stir until it cools. Add 1 TBS washing ammonia: 2 TBS 20-mule team Borax and 5 pounds of any clean grease which has been warmed until it runs easily, but not hot. Stir until it thickens, pour into cardboard boxes that have been covered with several layers of newspaper on the outside. Cover with another piece of cardboard, and towels and let it set for two days.
At that point it should be firm enough to cut into bars. Let it ripen before using (once again I called my Mom to ask her what ripening meant, turns out that it means let it set in a dark place away from drafts for about 2 weeks).
This batch I used plastic containers (that shortcake came in) to make the soap. I made it 2 weeks ago and it is still not firm enough to be removed from the containers. It turns out that cardboard is the way to go because it sucks the excess moisture out of the soap which enables you to remove it from the container and cut it in the appropriate amount of time. I will always use cardboard from now on, and yes I do enjoy making soap and can fully understand why my Grandma was so proud of hers.
Some people ask me why I spend time making my own soap and here are a few reasons. My Dad said that when he was a kid his Mother would wash their heads with lye soap, and when other kids at school would get head lice, they never got them because of the lye soap. A veterinarian told my cousin that washing her dog with lye soap would keep the fleas and ticks off of him. My brother told me that when he cuts up onions it makes his hands stink even after washing with dish soap, or store bought soap, but after I gave him lye soap he washes with it after cutting onions and the smell completely goes away. Is all this really true you ask? Well, I have been making and using lye soap for several years and my head doesn't itch, I don't have fleas or ticks, and my hands don't stink.