Lye soap from ashes and bacon grease

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Last week when I told you that one of my jobs as a kid was to clean ashes out of the furnace, I failed to mention the ash pile in the backyard. Everybody in town had an ash pile. 

Some of those ashes went for garden fertilizer in the spring, and some of them got sprinkled on driveways after winter ice storms. Dad decided to use ours to make soap.

Turns out Mom had been saving bacon grease all during the war. I think it was used to make ammunition or something. And even after the fighting was over she continued to save it, pouring it into empty coffee cans. It was while she was muttering about what to do with all that grease that Dad got the soap idea.

Laundry soap, he called it. Good old-fashioned lye soap. According to a recipe he had found in the back of his grandmother’s Bible, bacon grease and ashes were two of the things you needed to make lye soap.

I don’t remember all the steps in this alchemy, but part of it was filtering water through the ashes and then mixing it with the grease and some other stuff in a pot and cooking it over an open fire. I am sure the open fire was necessary because at one point the whole mess smelled so bad it would have driven us out of the house.

After it had bubbled and been stirred for hours, Dad poured the whole shebang into a wooden frame he had made and set it aside to cool. Later he cut the slab of soap into bars and presented them to Mom.

I think she tried one once. I remember she complained about blisters on her hands. After that she went back to her Oxydol. Dad never mentioned the lye soap again.

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