Saturday, December 11, 2010

Simple soap

That little enamel jar with a lid has holes in it, but someone
had put a sticky bandage on it.  I thought that was so sweet.
Simple soap is what got me started in the first place and here is one.  I wanted to do another milk soap and this time a soap that I could recommend for pregnant women and babies.  So no fragrance.  Kind of silly since I have been getting more fragrance and now have a lot.  But that is what I suddenly wanted to get back to.  A simple soap.  Very simple.

It is the kind of soap that I like to think my paternal grandmother would and could have made.  The ingredients would have been readily available to her even if they lived on an isolated farm in the north.  I like the thought that she made soap.  They had to be pretty self sufficient and it would fit with what I know of my grandfather who was very innovative in his farming.  In those days it was considered strange to have goats, pigs and ducks in addition to the traditional sheep and cattle.  But my grandfather was a very strong  character, intelligent and ambitious for himself and his family.  My grandmother... I wish I had known her.

I really think that it is such a shame that we don't get to know our grandparents when we ourselves finally reach an age where we start to be truly interested in our forefathers and mothers.  Or am I the only one?  Now I have so many questions!  I am fascinated by the past and how people lived then.  I know a little bit, but not the every day little things that interest me.

I love that photo of my dad and his mother and siblings.
She obviously sewed the dresses and probably the pants
as well. The sweaters of Icelandic wool were knitted
by her, but the kids probably knitted their own socks.
I never got the chance to know her.  She died ten years before I was born with her two youngest daughters.  She was thirty five and they were two and seven.  On December 12th 1948 an avalanche hit their farmhouse and buried it.  With my grandmother and her little daughters died also an old aunt, her daughter and the daughters son.  In all, six people died and one survived.  My grandfather was buried for four days in the snow.  The three older children were away at school.  My father was the oldest at fifteen, his brother one year younger and their sister was ten at the time.  The photo of the three of them with their mother is the only photo that exists of her.

So I made this soap to be simple and pure.  Something that she might even have made and passed the recipe on to me if things had turned out differently.
It is a small recipe, 500 g:

Olive oil        45% 225g / 7.9oz
Coconut oil   30% 150g / 5.3oz
Cocoa butter 10%   50g / 1.8oz
Sunflower oil 10% 50g / 1.8oz
Castor oil         5% 25g / 0.9oz

Milk 38% 190g / 5.3 oz  infused with M. maritime/chamomile
Lye 72g / 2.5 oz

I wanted to use some gentle herbs that won't harm a babies delicate skin so I put a few tablespoons of the Icelandic substitute for chamomile, Matricaria maritima in the milk and warmed it.  I then froze the milk and carefully put the lye in, a little at a time.   It turned a beautiful yellow colour.  I also added a bit of sugar water to the milk.  I like the way it increases bubbles.  I then put the soap into the freezer to prevent heating.  The result is a very softly coloured yellow soap that has no scent whatsoever.  There is a lovely simplicity in an unscented soap.  The absence of scent is the ultimate clean.  Pure like the country air and the bubbling trout river that runs through my grandparents land.

My father would have been 77 today had he lived.  He died on December 10th 2006.  I still think of him every day.

I like to remember them all at this time of the year.  I wish I had had the chance to know them.  But since that is not possible I like to give my thoughts to them around this time in an attempt to honor and celebrate their lives.  Not only my grandmother and her daughters, but also the little branch of the family that died with them.  My great aunt and her daughter and her brave nineteen year old grandson, who died after three days in the snow with the two year old in his arms.


  1. Love this post! Fanfares for simple soap! I actually love unscented soap in all its purity, but I don't think that many are with me on that boat. Your recipe is well balanced, this should turn out to be a beauty of a soap. My father and your father left this earth one day apart the very same year. Today is a hard day for was so hard parting from my Dad. He was a great fan of my shaving soap. Hugs, Ambra, hugs..

  2. And to you too, Cocobong. It's to understand the sorrow until one lives it oneself.

  3. You're both in my thoughts and prayers today. Ambra I ADORE this post! I'm so sorry for your family's loss. Tragic. You're good to remember an honor with this lovely tribute.

    I'm such a lover of family stories and the past in general. I also didn't meet my "natural" Grandmothers, one of whom graces my soap labels, but I was truly blessed with two wonderful Grandmas who lovingly shared stories (including soap making stories) that I treasure to this day. Hooray for simple soap, cooked outside in kettles, with lard and bacon drippings & the fresh clean laundry those soaps rendered!

    Thanks so much for sharing such a personal post. Hugs from IL

  4. I am really sorry for your loss Ambra. I am thinking of you, hugs xx

    I am a lover of simple soaps as well. The recipe looks really nice. I am curious what is the fat percentage of the milk you use in soap? Have you noticed that the quality of milk would affect the process somehow?

  5. Loved your post Ambra, that's just awful about the avalanche! It really touched me about your Dad because I feel the same about mine, he passed away a couple of years ago and I still think "I want my Dad back". Loved your photo, you are so clever how you arrange the items in the background to suit the soap you are taking, so beautiful!

  6. Thanks all, for your nice words.
    Becky, you caught me out! I should have had some lard in there, but I was out of it :)
    Heidi, I used full fat milk for this one. I've used yogurt a lot before. From what I've read it's better to use full fat. But I've not noticed any difference with the two. I just try to keep it cool.
    Aroma, thanks I did choose carefully for this post :) That enameled jar is old and rusted and just might have been in use in the forties.

  7. This blog is fantastic. Look at my blog, I give you something.

  8. What a heartfelt post. Back to simple. I love it. I was just thinking I needed to just make a big batch of goat's milk unscented shea butter soap. Simple, no swirls, just plain, nourishing, with love.

  9. Acabo de descubrir tu blog y tus delicadísimos jabones. Felicidades, me voy de seguidora

  10. Sorry for your family. Love the way you still remember all of them. God Bless!!


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