The first visitor on the farm from my family was Gram. My Gram has always been the "cool Grandma"... Her seemingly uncanny understanding of what was "in" with the kids (she taught High School English) was bolstered in my awkwardly bespectacled eyes by the fact that she had been a model (which my 10 year old self would have died to be). The voracious reader who always had the right books for me at the ready, was also a curious and creative person (with a great eye) from whom I inherited my interest in (ok, obsession with) minerals and exquisite details from exotic cultures.
Whenever I would visit her growing up, Gram always had a pile of good books (usually tucked into a basket with some chocolate) waiting for me and fun projects in store for us. We made Ukrainian Easter eggs, we baked, we made jewelry... Oh, she also introduced me to pine nuts! Visits to Gram's were always a treat and now as an adult (well, almost), I hoped to return the favor. I had been looking forward to her visit for weeks and trying to think of some fun things we could do together while she was here.
I had cheesemaking, soapmaking, and a visit to The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's Plantation, in the cards for her 3 day visit. Obviously, I had once again failed to add the "unexpected element" of farm life into my time calculations for the weekend. When Gram arrived, our first goat shelter had just been trampled and pooped on by The Herd, and a whole day would be needed to plan and build a new one.
Cheesemaking and The Hermitage fell by the wayside, but the one project we found time for had no problem standing alone - soapmaking! Admittedly, I was a bit leary at first of using lye, but once I started thinking of the other dangerous stuff we use daily (circular saws, torches, gas tanks...), I felt a little more comfortable with the idea. With proper precautions taken, soapmaking is easily less dangerous than trying to fish an egg out from under broody Freja.
Oh- I forgot to mention the best part: we made goat's milk soap! Handmade soap itself is pretty amazing stuff (made from natural, gentle ingredients that don’t leave the skin itchy, dry or irritated, unlike most soaps from big name brands that often contain harsh chemicals, drying alcohol, and sometimes even petroleum products), what's so special about goat's milk soap other than the fact that it helps hack away at my milk bank? Well, goat's milk contains natural emollients, vitamins and triglycerides, as well as the highly hyped capric-capryllic triglyceride, all of which moisturize like crazy. I HATE having dry, tight skin on my hands after sudsing up. I've been doing quite a bit of dish, milk bucket, and hand washing since we've been on the farm and until we started using this soap, I basically lived with a tube of aquaphor (the carmex of hand lotions, I know, bad) in my back pocket. No more! I love this soap.
We made our own cold process recipe using the lye calculator on Magestic Mountain Sage's website, using the oils we had on hand in addition to the goat's milk. Here's the process (use a kitchen scale for this one!) :
Oatmeal Goat's Milk Soap
16 oz frozen goat's milk, broken into chunks (freezing the milk helps keep the heat from the lye/liquid reaction from burning the milk sugars)
15 oz coconut oil
30 oz olive oil
6.4 oz lye
1/4 cup oats (ground in food processor to a powder)
a lined mold (I just used the cardboard boxes from my canning jars lined with parchment paper)
***Wear safety goggles, dish gloves, long sleeved shirt, jeans, socks and shoes while making soap to protect yourself! Keep a bottle of white vinegar and a paper towel to apply it with in case some of the lye solution splashes on you (the acid from the vinegar helps neutralize the alkaline lye).***
1. Measure your oils, making sure they are completely melted, and combine in a pot. If your coconut oil is stored at room temp you will most likely need to melt it. We use a double-boiler on the stove. Stirring will speed up the melting process once it gets going.
2. Measure frozen goat's milk into a bowl, tare your scale, and then add the correct measure of lye on top of the frozen goat's milk. Stir with non reactive (stainless or silicone) implement until mixture is smooth.
3. Combine the lye solution and melted oils, being VERY careful not to splash.
4. Mix with with a stick blender until the you achieve "trace". Trace is when the mixture reaches a thickness similar to pudding and you can see the path your blender makes through the mixture for more than a few seconds. If you take the temp when you first start blending you should see it rise about 4-5 degrees by the time you get to trace. Be careful not to go too far past trace or your soap may have trouble solidifying.
7. Let the soap solidify for a good 24-48 hours before turning it out of the mold and cutting into bars.
8. Stand the bars up in the box you previously used as your mold and allow to cure in a well ventilated area for 3-4 weeks. During this time the bars will continue to firm up and finish saponification, assuring that there is no lye remaining in your soap.
We love the way our bars turned out and shortly after (even though it makes a ton!) I made another batch using red clover and honeysuckle flowers I had collected. You can add dried herbs, essential oils, coffee grounds, pumice... the possibilities are practically endless! You can also use different liquids (tea, water, etc) and oils based on your personal preferences, just use a lye calculator to be sure your recipe is safe and correctly balanced.
If any of you have a favorite soap recipe, please share! I'd love to give it a try for my next batch.