We pride ourselves in our practice of making soap the old-fashioned way. We use a simple recipe with skin-loving ingredients but keep the ingredients to a minimum. We use the cold process technique of creating soap that takes six weeks from beginning to end, but we feel it is well worth the wait. Yesterday, we went truly old school in our soap-making, not from choice but force. Let me tell you, dear reader; I have a new appreciation for modern convenience.
We live a mere four miles from the edge of town. Although we feel isolated and cannot see any neighbors from our property, we are within walking distance of civilization. With a mere four miles separating us from town living, one would think our electricity service and cell service would be up to modern standards. It is not. It is not even close. With our cell service, there are days we can’t get a text out or in. I also face the issue of not receiving voice mail messages until I drive four miles into town. Although this is frustrating, we have learned to live with it. However, our electricity service is interrupted more than one would imagine in 2021. We frequently lose our power, and it is out for hours. On average, I would guesstimate we lose service at least three times a month for at least an hour at a time. Lately, it seems we have been without service for extended periods of time, sometimes as long as 6-8 hours.
Yesterday, our electricity went out at approximately 4:30 and did not come on until 7:00. Losing our power would be just an inconvenience, except we were making soap at the time. We use a huge immersion blender to mix our soap batter. It achieves in minutes what took our ancestors a day. The Bibbed Wonder was ten minutes from achieving trace, which is when the soap batter is emulsified and thick like pudding. Trace is also when the soap is ready to pour into the molds. Ten minutes and all would be well, but that is not how yesterday was meant to be.
When everything went dark, the oils were not emulsified, and there was a thick layer of oil on top of the soap batter. Once the lye and fats are mixed, there is no going back. We cannot stop the process. To make matters even more complicated, we were making jewelweed soap. I only harvested enough jewelweed to make two batches of soap. The oil infusion takes approximately a month, the infused milk was one of two batches, and we were at risk of losing our jewelweed inventory for all of next year. Rather than risk the entire batch seizing or going hard in the pot, we stirred the batter by hand, and The Bibbed Wonder used his battery-powered drill with an attachment on the end to keep the process going. Through the fading daylight, the batter appeared to be emulsified. We took our chances, agreed that we had achieved a thin trace, and poured the batter into the molds. We were apprehensive but felt as though it could work.
When the power came back on at 7:00, we went to look at our soap. To our dismay, there was a thick layer of oil on top of each loaf, and it was as runny as it had been when we poured it. We quickly washed and disinfected our large stockpot and proceeded to pour the batter back into the pot for more stirring. With our now disinfected immersion blender, we remixed the soap until we achieved what looked like dark green pudding. Taking a new set of molds, we repoured our batter and created our decorative tops. It was touch and go for a bit, but in the end, all was well.
I have a renewed appreciation for modern convenience and electricity. If we had lived in the days before electricity, we would still be stirring that soap batter with aching arms, hoping to achieve trace. Although I consider our process to be old-fashioned and authentic, it is very modern compared to what our ancestors did. I feel as though our soap-making has moved into the modern-day but our electricity provider, not so much. However, I suppose it is a price that is paid for not being able to see any neighbors.
In the end, all was well. Our time and efforts were not wasted, and we will have an entire inventory of anti-poison ivy, jewelweed soap for the fall and spring. I also have a new appreciation for electricity and my handy-dandy immersion blender I call “Big Boy.” I hope, dear reader, you do not suffer the loss of modern convenience. As always, stay safe, be smart, and keep washing your hands.