Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is this addiction and how did it start?

I have never had a problem with speaking in public.  This blogging thing, however, has had me paralyzed.  How do you start?  What is the inspiration?

Of course, it comes down to soap.  Here is my story.

It started innocently enough.  I bought my first bar of handmade soap at an art fair.  Yes, not a farmers market or a health food store but at an honest to goodness Juried Arts and Crafts Festival.  Said festival is held every six months so I knew I only had to buy 6 or 8 bars at a time.  One time I almost ran out and I was horrified at the thought I would have to dig into the back of the cabinet for a bar of Ivory that had been collecting dust for over 3 years. That was a pivotal moment.

It wasn't that I had never made soap myself before.  Ten years previously, as part of an experiment in social history, I had actually made soap.  Remember I said "experiment in social history?"  It's a reenactor thing.  Yes, I am one of those crazy people that dress "oldtimey" and parade around on weekends at historical sites.  (more on that later, hmm another blog topic?)

After researching what I could at a time when a 14.4 fax modem was a pretty big deal, I didn't find much out there.  I did find an old dusty book called "The Art of Soap-Making" that was written before my grandmother was born I think.  Armed with this, my journey began. 

My first task was to hammer together a mold.  No problem there, my husband being a carpenter had plenty of scrap wood on hand.  Off to the store to buy some lye.  Red Devil was STILL sold in NY at that time so checked that off my list.  Now I was faced with the base ingredient and being a traditionalist, I settled on Tallow.  Unable to locate that in any store I went directly to the butcher and asked him to save me all his beef fat trimmings for a couple of days because I was going to render that beef like my great grandma did.  Ayup!

Out came my big canning pot and in went 10 pounds of beef fat.  I was so excited, this was going to be so cool I thought; until the smell hit me.  All those soap books never said anything about the stench that cooking animal fats for hours creates.  I now understood why every picture I ran across, the rendering was being done in a huge kettle OUTSIDE.  I was gagging, the kids were complaining, my husband walked in and with much cursing walked back out again.  Even the cats were hiding.  

The next day, I returned to the kettle to find several inches of glorious, Tallow floating on the top of the pot.  I was ready!  Using the recipe I had found, I carefully measured out my water and lye and got those mixed and measured the fat into another pot.  After pouring the lye water into the tallow, I settled in to stir my concoction.  And stir. And stir. And stir.  At least two hours later, maybe more, it seemed to be doing that thing I read about called "trace." I was so tired at that point I didn't care anymore.  With my makeshift little wooden mold that I had lined with a piece of wet linen, I poured the batter in, covered it up and put it on a shelf in the basement.  I was done.  I didn't care if it worked or not, I was never EVER going to do THAT again.

A week later, while doing laundry, I spotted that little wooden box on the shelf and took it down.  Well Low and behold!  Yup, it was soap.  I could not believe it!  I took it out of the box, peeled the linen away and sliced it up.  I knew it had to Cure but I wanted to test it and it was good!.  I did end up using every bit of that soap but had no desire to make it again.

I have no idea when it hit me to look into soapmaking again.  I loved the soap I was getting at the art fair but it was getting pricey at a time when I didn't really have 2 extra nickles to run together.  Off to Barnes and Nobles and to my amazement there were books everywhere on the art of soap making!  I picked out a thin one, that cost me less than 2 bars of handmade soap and worried that book to death.  It wasn't until the spine was cracked and the pages falling out that i finally made my second attempt.  This time it was with store bought lard, no more rendering for me, no sir!  In reading this book I had also discovered that soapmakers were using a magic wand now that almost instantly brought the soap to trace with out hours of stirring.  I actually had one of these wands that was given to me as a gift but I never found it useful until now.  That Proctor Silex Stick Blender is STILL going strong after 8 years of hard use.

Soap, this hobby, that became and addiction.  An addiction that became so severe I had to find something to do with the  beautiful, fragrant and wonderful stacks of saponified goodness.  Friends and family, of course were always happy to take some off my hands but now it was serious.  I had to justify all the money I was pouring into this new passion and that is when I started Bonnie Brae Soaps.

I still see that wonderful artisan soapmaker at the fairs and festivals I attend now as a vendor.  I still stop at her stall and pick up my favorites from her table to smell and to say hello and maybe buy a bar.  She does make wonderful soap and I am forever grateful to her for the inspiration to try it again.