Soap Homecoming Redux
At last I made soap. Here's an updated version of this blog.
Years ago. No, years and year ago, I now and then paused and made soap. Was I a factory worker? No. Normally my life involved travel, meetings, negotiations and such. I noticed that almost anywhere I went if I used the hotel soap to bathe, it dried my skin. Trust me when I tell you that for me, just moi, dry skin is a barrier to negotiation.
At home, with only middling results, I'd scoured the soap aisles reading the promises of mellow moistening. Most left me squeaky clean, but also itching. I know, I know. Lotion, you say. Sometimes (often) I was in a rush.
Then one day while in a bookstore browsing the sale table, my eye caught this title: Soap, Making it and Enjoying it by Ann Bramson. It explained that the process of saponification creates two things: soap and glycerin. However, most commercial soapmakers spin the glycerin out for other use, e.g., lotion to soften the dry skin the soap gave you. Turned out squeaky clean is a sign of skin damage from natural oils stripped away by glycerin-less soap. Eureka!
I became a soap maker so fast you'd think I'd been doing it all my life. Which brings us to the lovely subject of scent. About 3/4 oz of scent material — oil of rose, oil of jasmine, etc. — went into the large batches of castile soap, copra-olive soap, and avocado soap I began making like a madwoman, bending over my soap pot from 30 minutes to an hour, stirring with a giant spoon until the mixture "traced." The result was always at least a few thousand percent more pleasant than commercial soap.
The Magic Batch
One day out came a magic batch. It was a copra-olive—pale, creamy yellow it looked good enough to eat. I must have slightly overheated it because when I gave up stirring after more than an hour and poured it into its giant mold, it hadn't thickened like my other batches. Four weeks of aging later, when I tried it, not only did it clean and soften well enough to please any nymph or mermaid, the texture was refined, the smell divine. But what had I used to scent it? From memory, I scribbled the recipe: 60% Jasmine, 20% Lavender, 20% Sandalwood. Right? Oh shucks!
People who used it begged for more when their bar ran out. That was over 30 years ago. I haven't made soap in many years, now, and I've never managed to reproduce that special batch.
Yesterday, out my soap pot came for a new try Again I weighed my coconut and olive oils, and my tallow into the pot, then I slightly overheated them before slowly adding caustic. Again I stirred for what seemed a century as saponification occurred.
The Magic Scent
I'd already mixed the scent in advance. Did I write down the formula? Noooo! OMG! I got lost in the thrill of the process. Pretending I was Roja Dove or Jean Paul Guerlain, I kept sniffing and adding, sniffing and adding. This is from memory: first I poured a good 1/8th oz of Jasmine Sambac and Sandalwood into my dish. Then wanting something special I gathered all my essential oils, most bought years ago when natural ones were still affordable. Mixing and sniffing, I added Rose de Mai and Jasmine Grandiflora. Too sweet. I counterpointed with Hyacinth and Lily of the Valley—two of the wicked stepsisters (Narcissus being the third). For floral lushness, I added Lavender, Orange Blossom (it needed something citrusy), Violet, sniffing after each one. Then Juniper for a bit of bracing sharpness. What else? Resins to hypnotize: Elemi and Labdanum. To intoxicate, animalics: Ambergris and Hyraceum. Finally I added Sri Lankan Patchouli to give woody support to the Sandalwood. 15 ingredients. Right? It smelled faaaabulous!
Just to be sure, I put some on my hand and took it out to hubby, who was busy pounding frets into the neck of a new guitar. He smiled. Yes, it was great he said. Honest to goodness it reminds me of Bogue's Gardelia and Roja Dove's Haute Luxe, beautifully complex perfumes meant to knock off a perfumista's socks. I wanted to wear it. I didn't want to put it in the soap!
But I did.
Here's the pot during stirring and the lined box ready to receive the soap.
Here's the magic scent material poured into the traced soap before mixing in.
And here's the box, ready to close, be wrapped in insulation and allowed to sit for 24 hours, after which I'll take out the soap so it can age for 2-4 weeks in the air. I'll post a pic. Did the scent hold its own and survive incorporation? We shall see. Fingers crossed
Not sure how I'll live for four weeks, waiting!