Soap, part 1 of 2

Yield: 6 pounds

Measure Ingredient
9 pounds Suet (also called tallow or beef fat)
1 pack Lye (see note)
3 cups Water
2 cups Lemon juice
¼ ounce Volatile fragrance oil (optional; see note)

TOOLS YOU WILL NEED: 1) A large pot (metal or ceramic) -- at least 2 gallons -- with a lid (for rendering the fat). 2) One long wooden spoon -- at least 10 inches -- that you can sacrifice, because the lye will eat away the wood. 3) A large ceramic (or glass) bowl capable of holding all the water, lemon juice and fat, with some room to spare. (I use a ceramic tub that is about 6 inches high and 24 inches in diameter; do not use metal, as it will corrode. Even stainless steel will corrode.) 4) Finally, you will need some glass, ceramic and/or wooden molds to pour the soap into. (I use glass baking dishes; two 8½ x 14-inch glass pans will make bars of soap that are about 1 to 1 ½ inches thick. Again, DO NOT USE METAL CONTAINERS, as they will corrode.) STEP 1: Render the fat. To do this, cut the fat into hand-sized pieces and place in a large pot and cover it. Heat on medium until all the fat is melted. You should stir it occasionally. You should probably plan to turn the fan on high or open your kitchen windows while you are doing this. (Note that if you are starting with a pure fat, such as coconut oil or olive oil, you don't need to do this.

Skip to Step 4.)

STEP 2: Cool the fat so that it is below the boiling point of water.

Add an equal volume of water to the fat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and let cool over night.

STEP 3: Take the fat out of the pot. I find the easiest way to do this is to slice the fat in half with a knife and then cut wedges.

You can push the first wedge down into the water and then lift its neighboring wedge out. Scrape all the non-fat gunk off the bottom of the fat (the side of the fat that was at the fat-water interface).

STEP 4: Measure out about six pounds of rendered fat (be accurate with this measurement). Cut the fat into small pieces (about the size of a tennis ball, but squarish, not round) and place in a bowl.

STEP 5: Set up your soap-making work area. It should be outside, in a very well-ventilated area. It's supposed to help to do it on a warmer day rather than a cooler day, but I've never noticed the difference. Also, clear your stove top and open the window in the kitchen before you start making the soap.

On a table, put your ceramic tub, the bowl of fat, the opened container of lye, a container with the water, and a container with the lemon juice. If you will be adding scent, keep its container nearby. Also place your soap mold containers nearby. PUT ON ALL YOUR SAFETY GEAR.

STEP 6: Make the soap: Pour the water into the ceramic tub. Very carefully pour the lye into the tub. This is an exothermic reaction: it gives off heat, which is used to melt the fat. It also gives off odors which you don't want to breathe, so keep your head back. Stir the lye to dissolve it in the water. Then start adding the fat to the water/lye mixture, stirring with the long wooden spoon. Add the fat a bit at a time and stir until it's all melted. Then stir in the lemon juice, scent (if you are using it), and pour into molds. When the soap is firmer but not yet hard, cut into bars with a knife. It should be hard in an hour or so; you can test it with your finger.

STEP 7: Wrap in clean cotton rags and store in a cool, airy place for 3-6 months.

STEP 8: When you clean up the pan that you made the soap it, be somewhat careful as there is probably still some unreacted lye in the pan. The only time I've had a problem with this is when I've tried to scrape the dry soap that lines the pan off with my fingernail and then a few minutes later I notice that the skin under my fingernail is burning. The easiest solution is just to wear gloves when you're cleaning the pan. It probably also helps to wash with extremely hot water so that the remaining soap (and fat if there is any) melts and dissolves in the water.

: Continued in Part 2

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