Politically Incorrect Soap

The best soap you will ever use is the soap you make for yourself!
Making soap is like growing your own veggies, dead easy to do but nobody does.
I make soaps too, not just any soap, good old fashioned Boereseep, made the only way I know how - with a lot of love and a little alchemy...
“the best soap you will ever use is the soap you make yourself”

Technically its not at all difficult to make a simple soap, we’ve been doing it since God was a boy. Granted some nations had an aversion to having a good wash believing all kinds of strange things but those days are gone and soap is as common as toothpaste and most people have come to appreciate the ritual of getting clean…

You can use almost any oil or fat to make soap and there are some truly amazing web sites with saponification values and lye calculators and all the information you need to make a flop proof, good to use batch of soap…
The net is loaded with information.
Take a look at Kathy Millar’s site and also that of Mystic Mountain Sage…

The soap I make is made the traditional way with the exception of one thing. Instead of potash (potassium hydroxide) I use good old caustic soda (sodium hydroxide)… why, well simply because it is easier to work with, more accurate and consistent which makes the end result just a little more predictable…

My fat of choice is Tallow. The soap I make is called Boerseep.
That both its main ingredient and name is considered to be yucky and completely politically incorrect is essentially somebody else’s issue, not mine!

So why do I use Tallow – well just like those who came before me, its what I can get. Its not all I can get but it’s the easiest and this fat is destined for the garbage dump.
I cannot justify adding an extra carbon load by using imported exotic nut butters and oils, in fact, because its waste, me doing something useful with it makes that load little lighter. Neither do I want to use anything that can be used as food by either man nor beast in my soaps…

I don’t use electricity or gas to make soap – its cooked over a fire fuelled with Rooikrans, blue gum or wattle, all listed invaders.
The ash from this wood is another reason I use caustic, the ash from soft woods makes soft soap and these woods would not make a very good soft soap either but if it were all that was available then I would no doubt make soap with it.

My soaps are not laden with smellies either…
The still we are building will distil essential oils from the most commonly available fynbos, trees and other plants.
Harvesting will always be polite and sustainable affair.

Tallow soaps are gentle on your skin, they lather well and also last.
I believe that tallow soaps are less likely to cause any allergies, skin eruptions and a lot of the unpleasantness caused by nut butters and oils that many people in this sensory overloaded world have become susceptible to.
If you know better, please enlighten me - I have searched and researched for information to the contrary and have not come up with anything.
To my mind, tallow makes a far superior bar of soap and my long passed Great Grandmother would most certainly rattle in agreement!

The process I use is hot process soaps in the almost exact way my ancestors made it (i cannot say forefathers because this was never the work of the fathers, back then making soaps was a woman’s work and I don’t think that there is a word like foremothers).
Why I chose to do it this way is because, firstly, I really enjoy the entire ritual that one must go through to produce a soap that is 100% historically accurate and in this there is a challenge and an amount of skill.
Though science has dispelled a lot of the myths surrounding soap making, enabling one to turn, what used to be known as a harsh laundry soap into a gentle all purpose soap while maintaining its authenticity, it hasn’t managed to dispel them all and there is still a little mystery hidden in every new batch.

The last reason I prefer the hot process method over all of the others I have tried is because I can add fragile essential oils or powdered herbs, spices and other botanicals to my soaps after all the harsh chemical reactions are done and the temperature drops to below the point of total annihilation for these delicate things.

Ultimately though, its the entire alchemic process which satisfies me exponentially, even more so when I jump into the shower at the end of a long day.

So you want to make yourself some soap…

Firstly, if you have never made soap before, I would suggest you educate yourself and do a fair amount of reading.
In truth, there as many ways of making soaps as there are cookie recipes – all with their own merits and snags and it simply comes down to what you are comfortable with…
If you are new at this, rather go try one of the cold process recipes you will find on Kathy Millers web site.
I have found her site invaluable in understanding the basic principals of soap making.
Beginners cold process soaps are far less involved and equally as satisfying but you do need to be patient though because once made, you have to wait weeks before you can try them.

What follows is a guide to making Karoo Candy’s Politically Incorrect Soap the old school way.

The basic principals of soap making are the basic principals. They apply pretty much regardless of the ingredients, much like baking a bread or making pasta from scratch, there are a few rules you just don’t break and an ingredient or two you cannot do without.

So Down to the business…
To render fat you need:

A sieve
A large pot
A trivet or a tripod with a chain
A whole bunch of very heat proof containers
Fat
Water
Wood

To make soap you need:

Tallow
Caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide)
Distilled or rain water
A stainless steel pot
A non reactive stirring utensil (I use an old very well made wire pap stirrer or a stainless steel spoon)
A mould (anything really that can hold about 4 litres of hot soap without popping)
A heat resistant receptacle that can hold 2.5 litres for making lye
… more wood

The Safety equipment you need:

Goggles
Rubber gloves
Respirator
Apron
A large bottle of the cheapest vinegar you can find (this neutralises caustic so if you do spill it on your skin or anywhere else it can be dealt with promptly).

I also don’t think that, if you can only make soap inside, that you should be cooking it…
Caustic fumes are extremely toxic and corrosive and they will go and settle, like a fine dust on everything in your kitchen but if you are on a farm or anywhere with lots of open space and you can cook outside give it a bash!
You should also know that rendering fat does stink, there is just no point denying this.

To render fat and make tallow – this process takes days!

Tallow is the name for rendered beef or sheep fat.
My preference is for beef fat, once rendered it has no noticeable smell while tallow made from sheep has a very slight smell but the smell doesn’t stay on your skin or on the laundry once it dried…

I render in large quantities because it is just not economical for me otherwise. I collect and store it until I have enough and then I begin…

For this you need a pot, fat and water…
Lots of wood and a sheltered spot to make a fire.
You also need a trivet or a tripod with a chain.

Oh here is a tip for firelighters – dry out your used tea bags, stick them in a coffee tin with a lid (or a jam jar with a lid) and dampen with paraffin.
You only need one or two…

When making soap the old people used to fry the fat out and then wash it. They did this because kaiings (the name for the crispy fried bits) sprinkled generously with salt was a bit of a treat.
You can eat kaiings, cooled just like that or with pap or on a thick slice of oven fresh bread.
The old people didn’t waste half as much as we do, they also worked hard enough that a little bit of fat didn’t hurt…

Dump the fat into the pot, fill with water and let it boil…
The first boiling is really to melt as much of the fat out of the membranes… depending from which part of the animal the fat comes, internal fat being the best.
So you boil and strain with a regular sieve – I strain mine into 5 litre ice tubs I get from our local ice cream parlour, set it aside in a safe place to cool.
Toss the solid bits back into the pot, add more water and boil again. Continue doing this until the solid matter is a negligible mass of sinews and other bits…
The kaiings get shared between the wild birds and my dogs so they go into their own tub until the whole “washing” process is done.

Now that you have rendered your fat comes the long process of “washing”.
When you take the now solid fat from the tubs, scrape off the goo (which is really just very fine bits of gelatinous membrane) that sits between the fat and water, doing this speeds up the washing process noticeably.
I usually add these scrapings to the kaiings tub.
Once you have scraped all the goo off, put it back in the pot, add water and boil again…
This process you keep repeating until you see that the amount of gelatinous matter left on the underside of the solidified fat is negligible…

How old the animal was has a bearing as to how white the fat becomes.
The older the animal (with cattle – sheep fat is just white) the richer yellow the fat and it stays that way… I have tried all the tricks I could find as to making fat whiter but in the end I have come to realise that once its clean, its clean and colour is not indicative of the purity of the fat… Besides, this creamy yellow fat makes for creamy coloured soap and if you use it for citrus flavoured, calendula or honey soaps its already appropriately coloured, what’s more, it’s a colour that you will not easily get by adding dyes either.
Sometimes nature on her own is enough!

Okay, so now you are sitting with clean fat…
I melt all my fat without water for the last time and pour into my trusty 5 litre ice cream tubs, put them on the scale and make each one 3.8kgs…
This is the batch size I find easiest to work with.
Store it in a cool dark place like under you are ready to make soap…

Make a fire.

For safety sake you don the gloves, goggles, respirator and an apron and now that you look like a chemical spills cleaner upper you can start…

No little children or pets in the vicinity either, they way you look now will most probably scare them witless and scar them for life…

Melt the fat in a stainless steel pot that can hold at least three times the volume of liquid. In other words the fat and the lye together should fill the pot to about a third.

Make your lye… For a 3.8kg batch of fat need 500g of Caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide) mixed into 1.425 litres of distilled or rain water.
The thing with mixing caustic and water to make lye is that you MUST add the dry to the wet and not the other way around – if you make this mistake you may never recognise yourself in the mirror ever again, that is assuming you have eyes left to see with – no jokes the stuff is seriously dangerous.

The chemical reaction that takes place is aggressive, what ever you mix it in must be able to stand the exothermic reaction, this is the heat (energy) given off by the reaction between the caustic and water. Please don’t stand with you face over the mixing container, it produces fumes…
I have an old bamboo chopstick that I stir the lye with, for some reason the caustic does not attack the bamboo as fatally as it did several wooden spoons. The reason I use a chopstick is that it mixes without splashing… you can use any non-reactive spoon, whisk, whatever. Stir until there are no caustic crystals left.

Then you need what ever goodies you want to put in to make it more fun to use…
I am not going tell you how much of what to add, I just add till it feels right besides making soap is a lot like making a bread, once you got the basics right, the rest is very forgiving but mother always reminded me of that thing that is said about assumptions and mothers!

So now the fat is melted and off the fire, the lye is ready and waiting and you have powdered your botanicals, sorted out your essential oils, all the smellies and your mould is ready and waiting.

Add more wood and make sure you have sufficient for the process. Go make tea, go to the loo, have a smoke, do what ever you need to because for the next hour or so you are not going to be able to leave this pot!

Once you are satisfied that for the next hour or so you will not be disturbed by anything and everything is ready – start…

Put the pot back over the fire and add the lye – watch out for the fumes even though you are wearing your goggles and respirator… start stirring… keep the fire moderate throughout, just a log or two suffices… you don’t want it ranging, just the equivalent of a slow simmer…

While cooking the soap goes through a whole range of changes…
First is all comes together and looks a bit like pap and you keep on stirring and then it splits and looks like melted butter on sour milk don’t panic - just keep on stirring…

The mixture very slowly gets hotter and hotter and it really starts to boil, you keep on stirring…

Stirring the soap does more than just mix…it drops the surface temperature just enough to keep the chemical reaction in check.
Eventually the big bubbles become smaller bubbles that resemble champagne bubbles.
At this point, besides the heat from your fire you also have the start of the exothermic reaction happening.
The soap bubbles rise, unlike anything you have ever seen happen in a pot before and will climb out if you let it. This is also why you need such a large pot to being with…
The seething mass will want to become volcanic as energy is released. The only way to deal with this is to stir in constant small circles round and round the pot. If it gets a little to much, take the pot off the heat but don’t stop stirring, when things have calmed down and your have regained control of the pot, put it back on the heat and don’t stop stirring…

As more of the excess water is cooked off and the fats are mostly converted to soap the mix changes again…
This time is looks like oily lumpy sauce and as you carry on cooking it slowly starts to look like hot gloopy gel…
its done…
Take it off the fire!
Add whatever super fatting oils to it you want mix thoroughly and let it cool to the perfect temperature to maintain the integrity of your additives.
Mix really well with your now totally exhausted arms and spoon into your mould…
Bang the mould to get rid of air pockets and to smooth and level the soap out. Cover and leave in a safe place until its cold…

Next free yourself from suffocating safety gear pour yourself a long cold one, sip slowly while you wait for the feeling to return to your arms and then very gently start to clean up.
Some people say that you shouldn’t use the same utensils for making soap as you do for preparing food – my question is why?
 Everything you use in the kitchen you wash with… soap! and to that end, dump everything into the soap pot, fill with hot water - this will be your first experience of your new soap…

The next day, un-mould, slice and even though you can use this immediately, I have found that giving all the ingredients a chance to come to terms with their new found shape and purpose for a week or two is better.
You now have the most delightful, crap free soap…
Its safe – gentle – sensuous…
Enjoy!

A batch of soap does all the washing of ourselves, the dishes, the dogs and the laundry for 4 months give or a take a day or two…

My grey water runs straight into my garden and there is no mankey, toxic grey mush at the pipes exit and the plants flourish…

PostScript
 Should you not want to put yourself through this time consuming, arm numbing and potentially dangerous process but would like to have the pleasure of using a completely guilt free, historically correct but politically incorrect, 100% natural soap, please leave a post or email me and I will make a batch specially for you!