Grandma’s Frugal Ways — In Style Again

Farm Grove Cookbook Grandmas LegacyMy winter project is to update and re-publish our restaurant cookbook entitled Seasons of Farm Grove – Recipes from a Heartland Home & Restaurant.

One of the chapters is entitled Grandma’s Legacy.  In addition to some of her recipes, I include her own method for making soap–lye soap.  It sounds harsh, but when lye and water are combined with clean fat, a symbiotic relationship between the simple ingredients produces big, creamy yellow bars of soap that were a frugal staple of my grandmother’s lifestyle.

  • My grandmother would collect all of her day-to-day fat from cooking in an apple-shaped grease saver on top of her gas stove. To clean the fat, she would boil it in water, strain it through a wire sieve to remove any debris, then cool it and remove the hardened fat from the water.  To have enough fat for soap making, she would add lard from the butcher shop.
  • Her notes said she would buy a can of lye [size not noted] and dissolve it in 1 quart of cool water in an agate or metal pan. When working with lye, she would place paper bags over her hands but rubber gloves are a definite modern improvement.  Add lye slowly to the water; do not splatter. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon or stick. Let the lye and water cool.
  • Heat the fat in a pan over low heat just until melted. For every 1 pound of clean, unsalted warmed fat, add 14 ounces of the lye solution. Grandmother noted that 14 ounces was half of the lye and water mixture. She would add Borax to the mixture at this stage for extra cleaning power, if desired.
  • Stir the fat and lye mixture with a stick until the mix is thickened like honey. Pour liquid soap into a wooden or heavy cardboard box lined with wax paper. The soap can be cut into bars the next day. Stack the bars to continue drying and hardening.

Grandmother would shave the bars into the hot water of her old wringer washing machine. She used it to clean just about everything, including grubby grandchildren.

My mother-in-law, Donna, also used to make lye soap and enjoyed making it for our Farm Grove Country Store. We sold all she could bring to those who also had fond memories.

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About Sharon L. Clemens

Sharon and husband Merle and their children owned and operated a specialty shop and restaurant in a restored dairy barn for thirteen years in a village in Illinois. After closing their restaurant, they converted the barn into the family home and moved their shop to the garden level. They operated a collectable shop as a home-based business for another thirteen years before retiring to the country life. Sharon has been a special feature guest on the local NBC telelvision affiliate and has spoken professionally on topics relating to herb gardening and cottage lifestyle. In addition to conducting workshops and programs, Sharon writes a weekly cottage lifestyle e-newsletter called “Cottage Chat” and a Word Press blog: Seasons of Farm Grove. She has written five novels, The Younger Girl, Door County Cottage, Timeless-A Door County Love Story, Door County Cabin and Door County Escape, love stories with traditional values set in Door County, Wisconsin.
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