Stirring fat

Last Saturday we made a batch of lye soap. This year we used beef fat. I’ll have to say, that from the preparation and rendering side of the operation, I like the beef fat. There is a much cleaner feel to beef fat. Hog fat has a much oilier touch to it.

The dogs were very much into the whole process. I cut the fat into small chunks for the rendering. As I was cutting I would trim out any blood spots or meat. Trimming away, tossing pieces down the hill for the mutts to chase after.

I set my kettle near the drain hole in our fire ring. Place a couple of stones around its base for support and shovel some coals in underneath. The drain hole provides a wonderful draft for the fire and placing the coals gives me a great deal of control with how hot the fire will get. The kettle is a 20 gallon size and cast iron filled with boiling fat. Not a little pot that can be slid off the burner on the stove.

Rendering can take several hours, and should. Doing your work in cast iron will leave some iron oxide in your tallow, unless you’re extremely anal about keeping your kettle rust free and clean. I like the caramel color that gets carried to the soap.

I didn’t take any pictures while we were mixing up the lye. It’s nasty stuff! The least favorite part of the whole process. We mix ours in a five gallon pickle bucket because I find it is easier to control adding the mix to the kettle. The handle keeps me and the lye water at a good distance from each other.

After the lye is added to the rendering it’s all about stirring. A slow, steady and constant cadence. Your stirring will begin to trace, or leave a soft furrow. A stick will stand when the mix is ready to be poured into the mold.

We used some old wood boxes lined with a trash bag for molds. Any old scrap lumber laid on a flat surface and covered with plastic will do. Keeping the depth of the soap under two inches I feel is best. Who wants to handle a brick sized soap in the shower.

We also tried placing cut sections of luffa gourds into the pour. When I cut the bars the luffa should be centered in the bar as a hand scrubber. I’ll let you know how that worked later.

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9 Comments

  1. Ed said,

    May 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    Do you make a Zest version? I've never made soap or to my knowledge, used homemade soap. I bet it is nice and will have to give it a try someday.

  2. Woody said,

    May 13, 2010 at 6:21 PM

    It's something to do Ed.

  3. Ron said,

    May 14, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Very interesting… I tried to make some soap this winter, but failed on part one: extracting lye from my wood ashes. I probably needed to add more water. It never did drip. I'll try again this fall. As I understand it, lard alone makes a pretty liquid soap. The mix you made looks great.Ron

  4. edifice rex said,

    May 14, 2010 at 2:10 AM

    Wow, that is cool! I want to try making soap one day although I get wonderful handmade soap from Rurality. did ya'll add any herbs or scent?

  5. Robin said,

    May 14, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    Super cool! We have never made soap before. It's something to learn on our to-do list.

  6. Woody said,

    May 14, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Ron…we use store bought lye. Sometimes it is hard to find 100% sodium hydroxide without any additives because the damn meth cookers use it in their trade. Good thing I'm a fat guy..it relieves suspicion when buying five pounds.Annie..nothing fancy, unless sticking a luffa gourd cut into one inch thick wafers in the soap is fancy.Robin..We enjoy it.

  7. Leigh said,

    May 17, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    Gosh, I haven't made soap in years. I love your campfire version. The luffa sounds like an excellent idea.

  8. polly's path said,

    May 19, 2010 at 7:35 AM

    I buy all of our soap from friends who make it locally, one of them uses milk from his goats.I would love to try my hand at it, but right now I just don't have the time to gather the equipment and just do it-and it doesn't help that I do have a local source for soap-I would be more motivated if I didn't.

  9. Woody said,

    May 19, 2010 at 11:54 PM

    Leigh..I screwed up with the luffa. I was distracted when the soap was ready for pouring into the mold. It worked out alright but was not as neat as I would have hoped. There is always the next batch.Polly..I'm sure there are some great makers of soap who really know what they are doing and make a super product. I just like playing with fire.


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