I have big dreams. I grow my own vegetables with compost-enriched soil of my own making, raise animals on Rennsli’s pasture to fill my winter freezer, process the plethora of the garden’s summer bounty then tuck it away in the root cellar, and generate most of our power from the energy of the sun. To truly be self-sustaining, my family and I want to learn how to make almost everything on our own, including cleaning and beauty products. On my original DIY list, was soap making, which I attempted to tackle for Christmas gift baskets in 2015. Not yet ready to make my own lye (sodium hydroxide) from wood ash, I found a home-based lye vendor in Upstate NY, melted down animal fat I had in the freezer, turned it into tallow, and bought a couple essential oils and natural oxide colorants. From
a thrift store book, I found a simple recipe, gathered my tools, and hoped for the best. After 3 days of work, I removed my first batch from its mold and my excitement quickly turned to shock when I looked down at a soupy, oily mess. I poured over online literature and gradually figured out that equalizing the temperature of the lye and the fats was my downfall. Some soap makers say to regulate the temperature of the lye and the oils within 15 degrees of each other, others say 5 degrees works. I stepped away from the task for a week then tried again, this time with vegetable oils (olive, canola and coconut) instead of animal fat. I regulated the temperatures of both the lye and oils to exactly 100 degrees. The new chemical equation mixed with the experience of using vegetable-based oils rather than animal fat produced a beautiful, solid, moisturizing bar that smelled amazing and produced a rich lather, that far surpassed its animal-based predecessor. And to be honest, the process was cleaner and kinder. There is a physical energy inside the chemistry of soap making, that is both gentle and caustic. I’m sold. Vegan soap-making has graduated dream school.