Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

Making Soap

It seems strange that some industrious person, who is not overly fine in feelings or in habits, does not take it upon himself to make soap for sale. Verily it would be better that a family like ours buy a quart of soap whenever it is needed, than for the whole house to be turned topsy-turvy because of the dirty work.

I wonder if there are in this country any girls so fortunate as not to have been obliged to learn how to make soap? I know of none in Boston, although it may be possible that in Salem, where are some lately come over from England, live those who still know the luxury of hard soap, such as can be bought in London.

For those fortunate ones I will set down how my mother and I make a barrel of soap, for once we are forced to get about the task, we contrive to make up as large a quantity as possible.

First, as you well know, we save all the grease which cannot be used in cooking, and is not needed for candles, until we have four and twenty pounds of such stuff as the fat of meat, scraps of suet, and drippings of wild turkey or wild geese, which last is not pleasant to use in food, and not fit for candles.

Well, when we have saved four and twenty pounds of this kind of grease, and set aside six bushels of ashes from what is known as hard wood, such as oak, maple, or birch, we "set the leach."

I suppose every family in Boston has a leach-barrel, which is a stout cask, perhaps one that has held pickled pork or pickled beef, and has in it at the very bottom a hole where is set a wooden spigot.

This barrel is placed upon some sort of platform built to raise it sufficiently high from the ground, so that a small tub or bucket may be put under the spigot. Then it is filled with ashes, and water poured into the top, which, of course, trickles down until it runs, or, as some say, is leached, out through the spigot, into the bucket, or whatsoever you have put there to receive it.


While running slowly through the ashes, it becomes what is called lye, and upon the making of this lye depends the quality of the soap.

Now, of course, as the water is poured upon the contents of the barrel, the ashes settle down, and as fast as this comes to pass, yet more ashes are added and more water thrown in, until one has leached the entire six bushels, when the lye should be strong enough, as mother's receipt for soap-making has it, to "bear up an egg, or a potato, so that you can see a portion of it on the surface as big as a ninepence."

If the lye is not of sufficient strength to stand this test, it must be ladled out and poured over the ashes again, until finally, as will surely be the case, it has become strong enough.

The next turn in the work is to build a fire out of doors somewhere, because to make your soap in the house would be a most disagreeable undertaking. One needs a great pot, which should hold as much as one-third of a barrel, and into this is poured half of the grease and half of the lye, to be kept boiling until it has become soap.

Now just when that point has been reached I cannot say, because of not having had sufficient experience; but mother is a master hand at this dirty labor, and always has greatest success with it.

Of course, when one kettle-full has been boiled down, the remainder of the lye and the remainder of the grease is put in, and worked in the same manner as before.

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