Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Birth of a New Soap

Some of our soaps will be perennially popular. Lavender, for example is a constant best seller.

We are always refining our line of soaps - testing new fragrances trying to find new and exciting varieties to add while dropping some of the older, less popular types. Taste in soap fragrance and look apparently ebbs and flows just like with any other product.

This spring, we made four sample batches with some new fragrances we thought had potential. We gave the scents time to mature in the soap to see how well they "stick" and also to make sure the fragrance stays true with time. We had friends and relatives weigh in with their reactions and then finally we made our decision.

My sister and I tend to favor very different fragrances and when we agree on one, it must be very special. This year, the fragrance that knocked our socks off was "Bamboo & Champaca" and we decided it was a winner.

The fragrance is very "fresh" with an undertone of tropical flowers. It would be considered a spa-type fragrance and I must say that the one in my own shower makes me feel quite pampered. It reminds me of a vacation we took years ago to St. Thomas where the shower was open to the outdoors and a flowering vine tumbled into the stall with me!

As with all our soaps, the base is moisturizing to the skin and makes mounds of fragrant bubbles.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Soap Day

When we have a "soap day" around here, it really means a good 24 hours of time. First we decide which soaps are needed and we prepare the lye and allow it to cool for a few hours while we assemble all the individual additives and special ingredients for each soap.

Everything is laid out for each batch and the molds are lined.

After the lye has cooled, we go to town making the soap itself. With everything prepared ahead of time, we can usually get through 8 batches in about 2 hours.

Yesterday afternoon, we made 8 batches of soap. Here, you can see the molds for seven of them full and ready to be tucked away for the night. We usually throw a towel over them to hold in the heat and encourage them to "gel." The eighth batch was goatsmilk soap and it needs to spend it's overnight in the refrigerator to avoid over heating.This morning, bright and early, we turned the soaps out of the molds and here they are on the table, waiting to be cut.First, the slabs are cut into logs.Then the (short) logs are cut into separate bars.
The feeling of satisfaction when the shelves are reasonably well stocked is great. They will stay there for at least two weeks to continue their cure.
Of course, by the time these soaps are ready to be sent out, we will have already begun restocking those that they have replaced...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jewelweed for Happy Wanderer

And the harvest goes on. Many of our soaps are "just for pretty", but some of our soaps are more practical.

Happy Wanderer is one of those. We add jewelweed and plantain, both of which are said to help with the itch and misery of poison ivy or mosquito bites.

We harvest both the plantain and the jewelweed and process them with olive oil. We freeze this "glop" in batch sized quantities so we will be able to make the soap all through the winter and early spring. We add this mush to our soap, along with lavender essential oil and tea tree oil. Both of these oils are helpful in preventing infection and the lavender is soothing as well.

The herbs are only available to us in summer, but people can be exposed to poison ivy all year 'round. I probably got my worst case of poison ivy when we were cutting brush and small trees in the early spring and I carried logs covered with (unbeknownst to me) dried vines. Mosquitoes are active very early in the spring as well.
This is a picture of jewelweed in the late summer, early fall, when it is in bloom. We try to get it a little earlier when the stems are still thin and not woody. The stems are full of a gel-like substance that helps with bites and itches. When sunlight shines through the stems and refracts on the water droplets that form on the leaves and especially when the plants are in bloom with their orange-yellow flowers, it just sparkles and I understand where the name Jewelweed comes from.

I learned about jewelweed many, many years ago when, as a Girl Scout, I was camping in a "primitive" camp site (built in a swamp-like area) and became covered with bites. Jewelweed grows in the same conditions where mosquitoes breed and we were told to pick it and rub it on our bites. It helped quite a bit.

Any good "real" soap will help somewhat with poison ivy. First, it will help with prevention because it can dissolve and wash the oils of the plant away.

If you haven't caught it before the reaction sets in, lather it on and let it dry. Then wash off and it will still help to dry the rash.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Harvesting for Soap

Along with all the vegetables loading our harvesting baskets this time of year, there are some special ingredients we need to stock up on for the year of soap making ahead.

Right now, bayberries are ready for gathering. We render them down for the wax that coats the seeds and add a bit of it to each batch of our bayberry soap.

My husband planted a few of the bushes about 4 years ago and they are finally starting to produce, but meanwhile, we have a spot where we gather them every year. We have found that we need to get there early because if we don't there are birds who love bayberries and one quick visit by a flock will strip the plants completely.

We do a pretty good job ourselves as we pick our way into the bushes, defying spiders, avoiding grasping branches - all the while trying not to drop any of the precious little balls of wax. The berries cling in clumps along the main branches and we have to hold the basket right below as we coax them from their perch.

We're not sure why (heat, drought, birds?) but this year, it seemed that someone may have beaten us to "our" berries although we still got enough to probably last us. Each year we seem to sell more and more of the soap that we once thought would be seasonal. Now find our customers want it all year around. Bayberry has a certain historic quality to it and the museums we supply are finding it popular as well.

On the way home from yesterday's exploits, we were contemplating the lush growth of bayberries along the Delaware shores and thinking of taking a quick trip to collect a goodly amount.

Dreams of bushels of bayberries with enough wax left over to make a candle or two is enough to probably push us over the edge!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Cucumber Blog Party!

While we're at it, cucumbers seem to be producing at an all time rate around here and I'm running out of ways to use them!

I asked my friends to join me in a blog party to collect some new recipes. See the bottom of this post for a whole list of blogs with a great variety of recipes for all those cucumbers.

My contribution is this tasty, recently rediscovered side dish that I used to make years ago:

Creamy Cucumber Salad
2 medium to large cucumbers
1 small (2" diameter) onion
1 C Sour Cream (or 1/2 C. Sour Cream, 1/2 C. Mayonnaise)
2 T. vinegar
2 T. sugar
Peel, core and thinly slice cucumbers. Spread out on a shallow dish and sprinkle with salt. Leave slices on platter for about 20 minutes to draw excess juice out.
Drain and place in medium bowl.
Add thinly sliced onion.
Mix together the sour cream, vinegar and sugar.
Pour mixture over cucumbers and onion and mix well.
Chill and allow flavors to develop.

This usually makes about a quart of the salad. It can be used as a side dish like cole slaw. My husband just loves it and can sit and eat most of a batch at one sitting! Okay, two.

I would think that this is a PA Dutch recipe because of the sweet sour flavors, but I think the first time I ever ate it was in Ohio and it was an old family recipe.

More Cucumber Recipes:

Becky's Cucumber Cocktails

Tina's Cucumber Lime Salsa

Cindy's Tzatziki

Janiece's Tomato Cucumber Salad

Nancy's Chilled Cucumber Soup

Karen's Cucumber Dill Sauce

Beth's Cucumber/Watermelon Salad