Soap making & A book review of the Back to Basics Handbook

This is my 3rd or 4th attempt at soap making and by far the most successful. My farmer friend built me two soap molds, this was my first time using them.  He made the above mold from maple he sawed on his sawmill, isn’t that cool? The ends are removable which allows for easy removal and quicker drying.
The recipe came from a book titled “The Back to Basics Handbook” by Abigail Gehring.  I was asked to do a book review of this book a while back by Skyhorse Publishing.  When I received the book in the mail we both had a good chuckle.  We already had an older edition of the book that we’ve referenced many times before.  Absolutely love this book!  It is perfect for the beginner and a good resource to those of us who’ve been dabbling in this homesteading lifestyle for a while.  It includes but it is not limited to everything from beekeeping, raising livestock, gardening, to candle making.  Would be a lovely present for your loved ones that are interested in learning basic living skills.  What I like best about this recipe is it’s simplicity.  I cut the recipe in half for fear of screwing it up.  I like to minimize my wastes.  To my surprise it came out great!

For soap making I have supplies set aside that I use only for this process: old mixer, wooden spoon, glass bowl, 12qt pot, thermometer, rubber gloves, and eye protection.   I also use my kitchen scale.

4 ingredients:

  • 3 lbs of beef fat
  • 1 1/4 pints of water
  • 7.5 ounces of lye
  • 1 oz. essential oil (I used mint)

First I cover my table with newspaper.  Then I prepare my lye solution.  I suggest you read up a bit on lye if this is your first attempt using it.  It is very dangerous and improper handling can result in burns.

  1.  Pour cold water into an enamel-ware pot.  Then add lye slowly while stirring the solution steadily with a wooden spoon.  The reaction between the 2 substances combined creates a temperature up to 200 degrees.  You can either allow it to cool on it’s own (as I did) or place it on a cool water basin. .
  2. Meanwhile I took my beef fat that I had previously rendered and warmed it lightly until it melted into an liquid form on the stove top.
  3. When both the lye mixture and the fat are at approximately 95-98 degrees I mixed the 2 together.
  4. As you can see in the picture below the mixture begins to thicken.  They call that saponification I think.  When the consistency is about like sour cream I added the entire bottle of essential oil, stirred a bit more the poured into my mold. (I lathered the mold with vaseline prior to to prevent sticking….it worked perfectly!)

  1. cover with a towel for a couple days
  2. remove from mold and allow to air dry
  3. soap can be used in 1 month

It made for great Christmas presents!  The feedback I received from friends & family was much better then any soap I’ve made before.  I even kept a bunch for us as well.  The whole family likes it.  I will definitely make again real soon, maybe this weekend!  Next time around I plan to use half pig lard since I have a bunch that needs to be used.  I also may use goat milk instead of water.  I froze goat milk this past fall in anticipation for soap & cheese making.

If you give soap making a try I’d love to hear the results!