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How Pioneers Made Soap
All winter long the pioneer wife would set aside fat drippings from her cooking. As winter came to an end, all the left-over fat and lard began to smell. This was a sure sign it was time to make soap.
On the first day of soap making all the left-over fat was put into a cast iron pot and brought to bake in the house. There a fire was lit under the pot. As the fire grew warmer the pot was placed directly into the flames. The pot was then filled with water.
As the water boiled it caused a separation of the fat from the non-fat particles of food which remained in the drippings. Later the whole was filtered and residues were recycled, as manure for the garden.
On the 2nd day of soap making the actual soap was made according to a rather specific recipe. The fat from the preceding day was used along with water, resin salt and alkali. The alkaline liquid was obtained by pouring hot water over wood ash and allowing the escape of the soda from the ashes.
Water was boiled in the cast iron pot and the alkaline liquid added followed by the resin & fat. The mixture boiled for 15 minutes during which time it had to be stirred continuously to avoid over-boiling. Snow might be added to the pot to stabilize the temperature and overheating. Towards the end of the boiling time salt was added by the handfuls to bind the ingredients into a solid mass.
It was necessary to watch the pot with great care for signs of thickening. As soon as that began, the pot was removed from the fire and allowed to cool for the rest of the day. All that remained to be done was to cut the clear yellow dough into cubes. These were placed in metal boxes to protect the soap from rodents and stored in the attic.