Earlier this year I tried to explain to my father why I do these things; why I make it myself instead of doing the much simpler task of going to the store and giving them money in exchange for finished goods instead of ingredients. I'd like to say it's for environmental reasons, or ethical reasons, or health reasons. Those are part of it, sure. However, the real reason is twofold.
The first part, unsurprisingly (as we are a young family and I am self-employed), is money. Making things myself is so much cheaper than buying in a store. The laundry detergent cost me $4 for close to 5 gallons. You just can't beat that.
The second and major part was perfectly demonstrated to my family this afternoon, when I made some soap. I danced; I jumped up and down; I kept yelling "holy crap, I just made soap!" The basic reason I keep doing all these things? I get SO DAMN EXCITED when it works. When I can look at something and say "Hell YES, I made that!" That feeling is worth any amount of effort.
The soap I made today has been in the works for literally years. We always collect bacon fat. There is always a can or jar on the stove to pour the pan into. I use it to cook sometimes, I made biscuits with it once, I grease the cornbread pan with it. A few years ago I decided I wanted to make soap. I researched it, I looked for lye everywhere I could think of, but always it stayed on the back burner: I'll admit it, I was mighty intimidated by the idea. Especially since the smallest bags of lye I could find were 10lbs!
Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered that I could, in fact, buy small amounts of lye from a couple of Canadian suppliers if I was willing to pay the dangerous goods shipping price. I decided I was. So now there was a jar of lye, sitting on a shelf in my workroom, staring at me. Disappointed in my seeming inability to pull up my big girl pants and just bloody do this!
Today was the day. I got out my bacon fat, gave it one more clean, and let it cool (this blog gives great instructions for cleaning the fat and is also where I got most of the instructions for this project). I poured a can of beer (Original 16 Copper, graciously donated to the cause by my lovely husband) into a bowl and made it go flat. There are lots of great lye calculators out there, I used this one to figure out my lye amount.
I melted my bacon fat in a stainless steel pot that I normally use as a dye bath, then set it in a warm place to stay at 88F.
I was so nervous/excited about adding the lye to the beer that I completely forgot to wear my gloves. When I realized, I almost freaked out. Bad me! I wore them for the rest of the process, I promise you. I had to do this outside as there is nowhere in my house with the proper ventilation....
Once the lye had cooled to about 88F, I added it to the fat and used my immersion blender to blend it.
Using the stick blender makes the stirring stage go extremely fast. Once recipe I read basically said "Blend by hand for 2-4 hours, or blend with a stick blender for 2-4 minutes." Once it got to trace (like pudding or whipped cream. If you lift the blender, the shapes stay on the surface) I added some cedar essential oil and stirred that in by hand. I had read that using the blender at this point can make it set up too fast and figured I'd rather chance uneven scent.
I used a couple of milk cartons for molds because they were what it had on hand and I had read that they work well. My soap at this point looked like butterscotch pudding. It was seriously lovely and smelled pretty nice.
The soap is now sitting on top of my refrigerator (a warm place), wrapped in a towel. I'll unmold it in a day or two (and update this post) and then in 4-6 weeks it will be ready to use! (And I'll update again)
Today is a proud day.
UPDATE: I cut the soap up today. It looks lovely, smells interesting and has a texture like firm cheese. I put it on edge on a baking rack, covered it with a light tea towel to keep the dust off and put it in an out-of-the-way place. Now, we wait!