”Farmers on the frontier made their own soap.”
The Dictionary for New Farmers, 1st edition
My father left the family farm for good when he went to college and he never looked back. By the time he was born, soap making was no longer a common occurrence on the farm for it could be bought in most local markets by that time. Graduating as a chemical engineer from Purdue and going to work for Proctor and Gamble (P&G), he soon learned the ins and outs of soap production on an industrial scale.
Ivory Soap was one of P&Gs oldest products and was introduced in 1891. Apparently its name was inspired from a quote in the Bible: “All thy garments smell of myrrh and aloes, cassia, out of the ivory palaces...” (Psalms 45:8). Ivory Soap is whipped with air that causes the bar to float and thus it became famous for that fact alone. Its fabled purity was one of the reasons why it was used occasionally to wash out the mouths of children in my generation for inappropriate language.
Interestingly enough, television soap operas, which have been around for a long time, originally got their name from being sponsored by soap manufacturers. These shows, with their never-ending dramas, certainly foreshadowed our current political state of affairs. Perhaps soap and detergent manufactures should consider switching to sponsoring Congress or even our state legislatures where the drama seems to never end. A bad-acting dirty politician could be heckled with “Ring around the collar, ring around the collar,” and then maybe they would clean up their act.
The making of soap has been around for a long time, although from historical reports of the middle ages, you might not have guessed it from the lack of bathing and odiferous aura of the populace at the time. King Louis XIV was reported to have bathed only twice in his life. I suppose, just like the stink of political corruption, you have a tendency to get used to it.
There is evidence that soap-like substances were made around 2800 B.C. in Babylon. The fabled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah may have had a biblical cleansing, but it was not due to lack of soap, which defies the expression “Cleanliness (in the literal sense) is next to godliness.” The Egyptians certainly knew about the properties of soap in 1500 B.C. as did the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the 7th century, France, Spain and Italy had developed soap making into an art.
Soap is made from tallow, kitchen grease and various kinds of rendered animal fat. It can also be made from vegetable oil. A strong base like lye is added to the fat and then cooked until a process called “saponification” is complete. The final product is soap. Lye was made by the early soap makers using hardwood wood ash and percolating rainwater through the confined material. Eventually, the liquid turned into lye. Perfumes, herbs, and other ingredients could be added to change the smell, color and quality of the soap.
We make soap here on the farm. I like to add bits of Little Debbie brownies to mine. Fat is its largest ingredient in such a snack and the smell of the soap is delicious!
Although my border collie loves the way I smell without bathing, and even better if I spend time in the chicken coop, I love using our own soap to shower. My wife, unlike our border collie, likes me better after a shower, especially if I have just spent time in the chicken coop!
Jeff and Kathy Crisler own a farm in Hocking County where they raise bees, berries and blisters. They are both retired and have two children and six grandchildren. Jeff wrote this column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.