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"My one and only experience with lye was while I
was in the Marine Corps." Editor's Note:I've read enough of Chuck's Marine Corp tails to know that what followed was going to be "interesting"; I was right!
Like many of you, I have an interest in many
things, most of which have no resemblance to each other.
A few weeks ago, while working at my daughter’s
store, Rustic Roots, in Turlock, a lady and her husband came in to shop. I
began to chit-chat with them as I so often do with many of our customers, and
discovered this lady makes her own soap. This immediately captured my
attention, as I have had an interest in learning to make soap for the past
several years. I’ve done a lot of study and research on soap-making over the
Internet, but hadn’t met someone I could really learn from, and this lady
seemed to be just what I was looking for.
We talked for a while, with me explaining why I
wanted to learn to make soap. Since Jenny’s store is a small “mom & pop”
operation, I have thought for some time that it would be fun to have special
bars of soap for sale made with the Rustic Roots logo imprinted on each bar.
Mary Anne offered to show me how! I jumped at the chance.
The date we set for making a batch of homemade
soap was Monday, May 1st. I told Isaura about this opportunity and
she thought it was great. But when she heard we were going to make it on Monday
the 1st of May, she said, “Can I come?
I’d love to learn!” I responded, “Of
We met Mary Anne at the store at 8:30am on the
appointed day. She brought all the physical items we
would need along with some of the ingredients, and we brought all the rest of
the necessary ingredients. We used a room in the back of the store that Jenny
uses to hold her bi-monthly painting classes for those who want to learn how to
paint furniture with the vintage/stressed looked that is so popular today.
So, with everything laid out, we began the
process of making our very first batch of soap. First up on the things to do
was mixing lye with oil. I have never worked with lye, but I know it can be
very dangerous if mishandled. Once it is mixed with water it heats up to nearly
a boiling temperature. The chemical reaction between the lye and water is
instantaneous, but before using it with any other ingredients, it must be
allowed to cool down to 100 degrees which takes about an hour.
My one and only experience with lye was while I
was in the Marine Corps.
It was 1972, and I was assigned to an EA6A squadron at
Cubi Point in the Philippines. Subic Bay Naval Base was next door to Cubi
Point. Subic had a football team which I played for. It was made up of sailors
and Marines. We played against Air Force teams from Clark Air Force Base (the
Philippines), and also against Yokosuka Naval Base, and Yokota Air Force Base,
both in Japan. One of the teams we played had just lined their field in the
white chalk you typically see on football fields everywhere. But there was one
problem! The groundskeepers accidentally used bags of lye, believing it to be
chalk. As the game was played more and more of the players were complaining
about a burning sensation under their pads. As the chalk was rubbed into
uniforms and skin, it was mixed with sweaty bodies creating the right
conditions for some serious burns. It was so severe that a number of our black
teammates had large swatches of skin burned so brutally that the black
pigmentation was gone, leaving the pinkest pink skin you’ll ever see. I don’t
know if their coloring ever returned in those areas, but I learned then and there
to be very careful with lye!
Back to the soap. The next step was to mix the
oils and bring this to a boil. This too, would be allowed to cool to 100
degrees. Once these two “hot” items had cooled sufficiently, they were mixed
with an electric hand-mixer, bringing the lye/oil mixture to the consistency of
pudding. The process from that point is fairly simple and straight forward. We
set out the soap molds to receive the mixture, but first we had to measure in
separate bowls the amount of the soap mix needed to fill the molds to be used.
Since I was experimenting, I wanted to make three different “loaves” of soap
with different fragrances. To accomplish this, you would add your fragrances,
thoroughly stirring this into the batter. We, of course, made one with a lemon
fragrance, which was Isaura’s choice. The other two loaves were my choice. One
was cinnamon, and the other was Pappy’s Lemon Spice. I have wanted to make soap
that has an aroma that men would like. In other words: Manly Soap! If I can
figure out how to make fragrances of Engine Oil, or Gun Powder, or even Old
Baseball Gloves, I’ll be happy! My neighbor, Dave, has already said he wants
one of the Pappy’s bars!
The three loaves are now cut into bars and
setting for four weeks to “cure.” That is, they harden, and therefore are less
likely to dissolve quickly.
Oh, yeah! Almost forgot. I ordered a special mold
which was shipped from Poland. In every detail, it’s cast in the shape of a
Hand Grenade! Is that beautiful, or what! I’m going to have to create a
camouflage color for this soap, then add to it the Gun Powder fragrance.
I think I’ll name it, Savon de Grenade! (French
for “Soap Grenade”). That would be the bomb!