It was my first year working in the North Shore School District Science department and the last day of school in June. Working a summer calendar was new to me. I had the whole summer off and I was excited about how I was going to spend it. I was going to make my first soap.
On my way home from work I stopped at the Bethpage Library, my favorite place to be before I had my soap studio. I made my first soap in 1999, before YouTube existed and Google was a common word. The only way for me to learn soap making was to read a book. The library had a copy of “The Complete Soapmaker” by Norma Coney, and it was now mine for a month.
I read the book thoroughly and made a list of what I’d need to get. I thought the hardest part would be finding the lye, but I was wrong. Since I had decided my first soap would Norma’s “Homesteader’s soap”, I needed to find enough beef fat to boil down to 106 ounces of tallow. I went to many butchers and grocery stores before I finally found a female butcher who would save me the fat I needed for the promise of some of the soap from my first batch.
To render the fat into tallow I had to cut it into small pieces and boil it down. The tallow is the oil that rises to the top. Every day I boiled that pot and every evening I put it into the refrigerator. In the morning I’d scoop off the tallow and start again.
After about a week I had enough tallow to make my first soap. I suited up with goggles and gloves, carefully mixed the lye with the water, measured temperatures, and poured the lye water into the melted tallow. I stirred by hand for about a half hour with a wooden spoon, looking to see if the solution was mixed enough. Stepping away, I washed some dishes and went back to stirring. Another 30 minutes passed and I put down the spoon and did another chore. This went on for about 4 hours. I finally decided to say a prayer it was ready and poured it in my mold. Norma said to keep the soap warm, so I wrapped the mold in a blanket and put it in a cooler with a cover.
I’ve never forgotten that magical moment and the feeling when I opened the cooler and saw the soap I created. Now I use a stick blender instead of a wooden spoon, and oils and butters instead of tallow. I have multiple molds and curing racks and a soap visor instead of goggles. I have customers who love my soap. Every time I take the top off a mold, my heart sings a song and I smile. I’m grateful I still feel that way because that’s what keeps me going on this soap making adventure.
In case you’re wondering, I do have a few bars of 20 year old soap from that first batch.
What are you grateful for this week?
Yours in Gratitude,