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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mama made soap

Just for something different than talking about food so much; I thought today I would tell a story about my Grandmother that I called Mama. 

One of the things Grandma Mama did was make soap.  Actually, she made two kinds of soap.  One was a hard bar soap that made our skin very soft and another was a laundry soap.  Grandma Mama's laundry soap was nothing at all like the laundry soap I made myself about a year ago.  Her soap was a mushy brownish sort of stuff.  It was about the consistency of mayonnaise or pudding and didn't make bubbles at all.  It got the clothes very clean though. 

Washing was done by cooking boiling our clothes in a pot of water over an open fire, removing them to a tub of cooler water, and scrubbing on a wash board my Grandpa Papa had made.   There wasn't any electricity in our house back then.  When electricity was eventually run to the house Grandma Mama did get a wringer washing machine.  She thought it the best contraption ever made. 

Anyway, about the laundry soap Mama made.  She had a bucket sort of thing she used to make her lye.  I can't remember exactly the formula Mama used to make her soap but I do remember the way she made her lye...... sort of.    It's been a lot of years since I thought about this.

Papa had found a wedge shaped rock.  It was rough, not smooth.  Just something he found on the farm.   The rock was about 3 inches on the high side and about an inch on the low side and somewhere around two feet wide.  The rock looked sort of like this.

Into this rock Papa chiseled a groove in a somewhat round shape with another chiseled section going toward the short side of the rock wedge.  His circle was a lot rougher than my drawing.  The groove was about 1/4 inch deep.   The top of the rock looked sort of like this.

Behind the wash house was a makeshift bench table setting next to a rain barrel. The rock sat on this bench table with the edge of the rock just a bit beyond the edge of the bench.  On top of the rock sat a bottomless and topless wood bucket.  If I remember right, Mama's bucket was originally a cracker barrel cut in half and the bottom removed.   Hmm... it might have been a pickle barrel.  Anyway....

 The barrel bucket was just a  bit larger around than the groove Papa had carved into the rock.  Under the rock sat a small iron pot.   It all looked sort of like this. 

Inside the bottomless bucket Mama packed some straw about an inch or two deep.  On top of the straw she put a piece of muslin.  The muslin was just big enough to cover the bottom of the bucket and come up the sides a couple of inches.  On top of the muslin Mama put ashes from her cook stove.  She only used wood and corn cobs in the cookstove.  She filled the bucket up to about two or three inches from the top of the bucket.  I remember Mama would never use the coal ashes from the pot belly stove that heated the house.  I don't remember why though.  Maybe she didn't like the soap it made.

About once or twice a day Mama would put a couple of dippers full of water on the ashes.  The dipper held about a cup or so of water.  Hmm.... a dipper is what we used to get a drink of water from a water bucket.  You may have seen in old western type movies how people drank from a dipper?  Anyway, the water trickled down through the ashes, through the fabric and straw, into the groove, and down to the iron pot below creating a lye water.  The fabric and straw was to keep the ashes from going into the pot along with the lye water. 

Mama saved her kitchen grease by straining it through a piece of muslin.  Mama's cooking grease was lard she made herself.  After she used the lard over and over again enough times it started to get really brown looking.  When Mama thought it really was too brown to use for cooking anymore she saved it to make laundry soap.  When Mama thought the lye water was just right she would mix her old cooking lard into the lye pot.  Mama would spend a very long time sitting and stirring the lye lard mixture with a wooden spoon. 

How Mama knew just when the lye was right or how much lard to add, or how long to stir it, is a mystery to me.  The memory is lost along with other childhood memories.  Maybe it will come back to me later.... maybe not.  Mama stored her laundry soap in a pottery type bowl in the wash house.   If I remember right, after making soap Mama refilled the bucket with new straw, muslin, and ashes to start the process again.  

I hope you've enjoyed the story about my Grandma Mama. 


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your story about lye soap. I always liked to hear people talk about the way things were done back in the day.I remember the dipper to get a drink. I did that at Grandmas house. Do you remember cutting out paper dolls from catalogs? I am afraid a lot of things are going to be lost. The children now do not entertain their selves the same as we did.

Gail said...

What a great story! You loved her very much, it shows.

Joyful said...

I enjoyed this story. Thanks for sharing it.

kathi said...

ah, the old days. So much has been lost as to how things were done back then. My grandmother used to make the BEST garlic pickles. I would watch, but i don't have a CLUE how she did it. sad. hmmm? pickle barrel. giggle. sending hugs.

Joan J said...

All I can say is... Wow. First, think how organized women were back then - to do all these things we (at least I) don't do anymore. Your grandmother certainly couldn't wait until the household was out of soap to start making a new batch - it required organization and thinking ahead. Households were run in a much more orderly fashion back then, don't you think? I enjoyed your story tremendously.