NEAMN members spent a recent Saturday stirring up batches of handmade soap using traditional techniques and ingredients. Surrounded by various oils and fats, lye, and other ingredients such as essential oils, botanicals, oatmeal, and buttermilk, our group created natural soap using six different recipes.
Mixing science and history, Kristyn Watts, Superintendent at Powhaton Historical State Park, led this fun and informative workshop.
Saponification is the chemical reaction resulting from mixing an acid and a base to make soap. Early colonists boiled tallow from animal fats (the acid) and potash from wood ashes (the base) to produce their household’s soap.
Using the cold process soap making method, the NEAMN group mixed assorted oils and fats (the acids) with lye (the base) using precise recipes. Some of these recipes also included delightful ingredients such as poppy seeds, borax, lavender, clove oil and mint leaves. Constant stirring causes the molecules to interact, so we stirred, and stirred, and stirred…. The soap is ready once it reaches the trace stage, where drizzling the soap along the surface leaves a raised trace of where you’ve drizzled. It is then poured into molds, covered and left to set. Finished soap blocks will be ready for cutting into smaller hand size bars in about a month.