Pioneers West

Soap Making

Making soap was one of the hardest and nastiest of chores, but also one of the most important. Soap was made from ashes, water, and fat. Early spring and late fall were the most popular times for making soap. People saved table scraps and old lard all winter for use in spring soap-making. Soap-making required skill in judging correct proportions and temperatures and the process was not always successful. First, water was poured through wood ashes to produce lye. According to the domestic manual, You made soft soap by boiling the lye until it was strong enough to "eat off the soft part of a feather." The grease and lye were then boiled together to produce soap thick enough to form cakes at the bottom of a cup of cold water. This produced a soft dark yellow paste for washing clothes. To make hard cakes of soap, the lye had to be strong enough "to float an egg." Grease was added to the lye and the mixture boiled until thick, when salt was added. The mixture hardened for a day then was melted down again before forming hard cakes of soap for bathing. 6 bushels of ashes plus 50 pounds of grease yielded 1 tub of soap.


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