Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gather 'round, ye scurvy dogs

Along with blueberries and Concord grapes, cranberries are only one of three fruits that are native to North America. They were called mossberries, fenberries and bearberries before early German and Dutch settlers who started calling it the "crane berry" because the flower looked a lot like the head and bill of a crane; over time craneberry was shortened to cranberry. 

In the 1800’s, deep within the Pine Barrens of south New Jersey amongst the cranberry bogs resided a cranberry grower named John "Peg Leg" Webb.  It’s was Peg Leg who discovered that cranberries could bounce.  He stored his berries in the loft of his barn.  His wooden leg limited his mobility and it was difficult for him to carry his crop down the stairs leading from his storage area.  Necessity being the mother of invention, Peg Leg simply poured them down the steps.   Like little bouncing balls all the firm, healthy berries bounced all the way to the bottom the bad ones lay where the landed. 

Peg Leg was known for the quality of his cranberries.  He sold his berries on the Philadelphia waterfront docks. Because cranberries can prevent scurvy, a disease that regularly attacked crews during long voyages, his most common buyers were whaling ship captains. They incorporated cranberries into the meals for the ship's crew.

Scurvy was at one time common among sailors who were at sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored.

Scurvy leads to the formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. The spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. In advanced scurvy there are open, suppurating wounds and loss of teeth.

Perhaps John "Peg Leg" Webb lost his leg in a pirate war or maybe he just didn’t eat the vitamin C rich fruit that he grew . . . whatever the case I’m sure he’d have beeb a great fan of my Cranberry Apple Soap.

I made this using the same safety precautions and procedures I used  in this post.

Cranberry Apple Tea Soap
  • 16 Ounces Lard
  • 1 Ounce Honey Added At Trace
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon Added At Trace
  • 2.3 Ounces Lye
  • 7 Ounces Ice Cold Or Part Frozen Brewed Cranberry Apple Zinger Tea

Remember that when you’re making your own soap that you should have a dedicated set of equipment set aside just for this process.  

This recipe is for a  I’m going to be making cold process soap.  The basic tools required are:

A Large Pot . . . Enamel or cast iron do very well for this.
A Large Wooden Or Plastic Spoon
A Hand Mixer (Optional)
A Large Baking Pan Or Shallow Cardboard Box

Put the ice cold tea into a 1 quart bowl. Using the stirring spoon (known to soap makers as the "crutch"), pour lye slowly into the tea, stirring until the lye is all dissolved. Remember that lye is very caustic and will burn your skin and eyes! Any splatters must be washed off immediately with lots of water!
Cranberry Apple Tea
After Lye is added

After Lye is dissolved
 Cover the solution to keep out air and allow to cool (or warm up) to about 85 degrees F.  No need to apply heat – heat will be chemically produced when the lye comes in contact with the liquid

 Melt the fat in the 4-6 quart bowl or pot. Don't use aluminum or galvanized bowls!  When the fat is melted, cool it down to 95 degrees F. Prepare the box with a plastic trash bag lining, so the fresh liquid soap can't leak out.

When all is ready, begin to stir the liquid fat in a clockwise direction while pouring the lye mixture into it in a thin steam (pencil size or thinner) until it is all added. Crutch (stir) the mix vigorously, using “S” pattern or use a hand blender alternating with a circular pattern until the mix begins to cool and thicken.  At this point do NOT stop or the mix may separate!
First the soap will be murky, then creamy, then like heavy cream and finally, like hot cooked pudding and will show traces when you dribble a stream from the crutch onto the surface. This process can take from 10 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature, weather and purity of your ingredients. Stir vigorously but patiently! With hand blender stir time is cut to 1/10 of the regular time.

I've found that using my old Kitchen-aid Classic is the perfect tool for stirring my batches of soap.  Although i am constantly monitoring the mixing process, the stand mixer lets me be a little more hands off and I can be doing other things around the kitchen while the soap is mixing and cooling.

When your "trace" does not sink back into the surface, the soap is ready to pour into the lined box. Wear rubber gloves and treat the raw soap like you treated the lye water. Wash off all splatters immediately. Have 10% vinegar and water and a sponge to neutralize splatters.

After 3-5 hours the soap may be cut into bars with a table knife, NOT a sharp knife. Allow the soap to cure in the box for about a week before breaking it up and handling it, and another month before using it.

In a week remove the soap and break apart.  Let them cure for at least a month before using. 

If you are interested in some perfectly wonderful hand crafted soap but don't want to go through the process of making it . . . Soaps by Judy is a fantastic source.  She's a personal friend of mine and a great lady and she makes the most amazing soaps!  Check out her website and look her up on Facebook.

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