Saturday, March 5, 2011

You must empty out the bathing-tub, but not the baby along with it

When I was born my family was living in trailer park.  Shortly after my birth mother and father were able to sell the trailer and move into a house; a very exciting time for a new family.    Anyhoo, all the furniture, appliances, bric-a-brac and knick-a-knacks  were packed up, boxed up and moved out.  Mother and father loaded what they could into the old station wagon and off they headed to their new home.  Halfway to the new residence they realized they forgot something at the old trailer . . . me!  Shocking, I know.  So they hung a U-ie and headed back to retrieve the precious bundle that was yours truly.  When they got to trailer, there I was . . . the cutest freaking little baby you ever did see . . . strapped into my travel carrier all cozy dozy and unaware of the carelessness and cluelessness of mother and father.  Do I seem bitter?

Anyhoo . . . the point of this little anecdote is to not throw out the baby with the bathwater . . . or trailer-home . . . whatever the case may be.


Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater . . . what in the heck does that mean anyway?  Basically, it means not throw out the good with the bad.

Well, back in the olden days . . . like 500 years ago . . . before people knew the value of cleanliness . . . both health-wise and inter-relationship-wise  . . .  the unwashed masses were just that . . . unwashed.   Back then bath time wasn’t a daily occurrence, nor a weekly one, nor . . . egads . . . a monthly one.  Bathing was . . . double egads . . . an annual event.  That’s right, folks would take a bath once a year whether they needed it or not.

Preparing a bath before the advent of indoor plumbing was quite an effort.  First the large metal tub had to be filled.  Buckets of water would have to be drawn from the well, heated over a fire and then poured into the tub.    Once the tub was filled with warm, clean water family bath time could commence.  That didn’t mean that everyone piled into the water all at once.  Family members got to bath in the order of importance in the home.  Bath time started with the man of the house, then the sons and any other men in the household. Then the women and children got their turn in the bath water, and lastly the babies were bathed.   All in the same water . . . not so warm OR clean at this point.   The last person in the tub would have the unpleasant privilege of “washing” in dirt, grime, grit, sweat, blood and whatever other manner of nastiness might be sloshing around.  I imagine the water was quite disgusting and murky by that time.  I guess it wouldn’t be too difficult lose a baby in that mess.

Hence the phrase, or saying, 'Don't throw the baby out with the bath water'.


When I make butter, the by product is buttermilk.  I use the buttermilk in cooking and baking.  However, another use is to make soap with it.  Using buttermilk to make soap  works just the same as mixing lye with plain water. Be safe. Enjoy the experimentation!

Follow the general directions for Making Lye Soap including all of the safety guidelines.  Start with about 1/3 of the buttermilk in liquid form and the other 2/3 in slushy or frozen chunks form.

Add liquid and ice buttermilk to your pitcher and then SLOWLY add the lye to the milk. As it starts to dissolve, it will start to heat up. Stir the solution gently.  The milk will turn a kind of burnt yellow color that won't smell very good.  The odor will not carry over to your finished soap product and the color will mellow out to a lovely golden hue.

Honey is also a wonderful additive to soaps. It can impart a light, warm, sweet scent, the added sugar content helps increase the lather, and acts as a humectant. Use about 1 tbs. per pound of fat and add it at a very very light trace. You want to make sure it gets completely incorporated into the soap before your trace gets too thick. Honey will turn your soap a light tan color. This, similar to what occurs when you use milk in soap, is from the chemical reaction with the extra sugars in the soap.

Honey Buttermilk Soap

  • 16 Oz Lard
  • 1 Oz Honey Added At Trace
  • 2.3 Oz Lye
  • 7 Oz Buttermilk
As the buttermilk soap reaches trace it will start to thicken and look just like caramel.  

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

Prepare the lye water by freezing 1/2 of the water into ice cubes. Put the ice cubes and the rest of the water into the 1 to 2 quart bowl. Using the stirring spoon (known to soap makers as the "crutch"), pour lye slowly into the ice and water, 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!

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 water.

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 circular manner while pouring the lye water 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, add the honey and mix.  Now 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.

It's amazing how it went from a rather putrid looking yellow to this beautiful creamy color.

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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