When I was a wee lad of about 3 or 4 years old, I remember
my grandmother making her own lye soap in her backyard. I dont remember all of the ingredients,
but I do remember the wood ashes and some sort of fat as well as lye.
My grandmother was able to get by with the simplest things because at various times in her
life she had to live a simple life. When I was a youngster, I remember a coal fired potbelly
stove in the living room of her small cottage style house. In the kitchen was an old wood fired
cook stove that was replaced a few years later with a more modern gas range. The old wood stove
was the source of ashes she used in her soap recipe.
The fat she used, to make her soap, came from meat drippings or lard. I can still see, in
my minds eye, the big two-pound coffee can on my grandmothers old kitchen stove
used to store "Grease," as she called it. She cooked bacon or sausage for breakfast
everyday and made a lot of meals with good old-fashioned ground beef. These types of meats produced
copious quantities of grease, which Grandma would pour into the covered coffee can that she
kept toward the backside of the stove top.
When Grandmas supply of lye soap was getting low, she would go out in her backyard
and build a wood fire. When the fire was big enough, she would place a wash tub over the fire.
The tub would be filled half-full with water. When the water had reached a high enough temperature,
into the tub would go the ingredients for her soap. As I said earlier, this would include wood
ashes, grease, store-bought lye and other ingredients I no longer remember. Grandma would use
store-bought lard only if she didnt have enough "Stove grease" available.
As part of this backyard soap factory, there was a big tree stump. This stump was about
three feet in diameter, so it must have been a fairly old tree when it was cut down. That stump
had always been there as far as I was concerned. It had been sawn off in such a way that it
made a nice backyard table. Ill get back to the stump a little later.
Grandma would now stir the hot, bubbling, soap mixture occasionally during the afternoon
until the goop became thick. When it reached a thick enough consistency, Grandma would place
a big soap sheet on the nearby stump. A soap sheet looked very much like an oversized cookie
sheet. It was made of a thick piece of galvanized sheet metal. It was about four feet on a side
and had an upturned edge that was about one inch high. This edge determined the thickness of
the bars of soap.
Grandma would use a very large ladle to scoop up a large quantity of gray colored glop and
plop it on the soap sheet. She would repeat this until the soap sheet was full or the tub was
empty. When the soap sheet was full of the gooey gray soap, Grandma would tap on the side of
the soap sheet, several times with a broom handle, to get the mixture to settle to an even thickness.
Finally, just before the soap had hardened completely, Grandma would use a very big knife (very
big to a 3 or 4 year old boy) to cut lines across the nearly hardened soap. The resulting bars
of soap were about 2 by 3 inches in size and one inch thick with very rough edges. So, that
is my recollection of my grandmother making her own brand of lye soap.