Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Soap Making

On 8th March, Jim Caurnie of The Caurnie Soaperie in Kirkintilloch joined us to induct us into the art of fine soap making. Caurnie Soaps use a traditional cold process technique to produce ‘the best possible, organic, Scottish soap’ that has been selling worldwide since 1922.
Jim Caurnie

Jim brought with him some beautiful soap samples:

Nettle which is particularly good for eczema and psoriasis,
Aloe Vera & Scots Oats for delicate skins,
Peppermint for increasing memory and keeping you wide awake,
Bog Myrtle for acne and its anti-bacterial/ antiseptic nature,
Lavender for its sleep inducing properties,
Basil & Rosemary for clarity of mind,
Heather for its calming, cleansing ways.

The ‘cold process' creates a solid soap that matures (hardens) as it ages so lasting longer.  This is in contra-distinction to ‘melt & pour’ type of soaps made by Lush, (whom we are led to believe is an uber-organic-high integrity company), but essentially their method is a good way of making money as the soap melts away so quickly that it soon needs replacing. The cold process is has enhanced credentials in that it requires no added chemicals or petro chemicals to produce and can be used by people with multiple chemical allergies safely. 
Caurnie Soaps

We soon digressed (who, us?) and got into a discussion about nettles and their neglected therapeutic properties. Jim’s a big fan and waxed lyrically on the particular merits of nettles in helping to control skin condidtions, such as exzema and psoriasis. Nettles are also be used as a rubefacient, to draw blood away from joints and skin thus relieving the pain of arthritis and rheumatism. An old Italian tradition is to flay the skin around the affected joint with freshly cut nettles until the stinging is unbearable – but as the stinging dies away, so does the pain at least for a few weeks… A milder form of treatment can be had by gathering  young leaves in spring and then freezing them for future use or making a tincture.

Okay, back to the soap making process. Historically there are two methods: the cold process which keeps all the oily parts in the soap, producing a more natural and moisturising bar; and the ‘boiling process’ where heat separates glycerine out of the fat – this was popular historically as it allowed the use of ‘stinky’ oils (e.g. whale oil). The basic chemistry is:

Vegetable oil + NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide) + Water
in an exothermic process to separate fatty acid from the glycerine
Soap Scientists

The afternoon was spent concoctiong our own soaps in a spirit of competition – we all wanted to win the box of beautiful soaps Jim had brought down. So lines were drawn, Sophie and I teamed up, and the race began...
Just at 'trace' stage
How to make a Castile soap

200gms coconut oil
800 gms olive oil
137 gms lye (NaOH)
375gms water
30 mls of essential oil

Melt the coconut oil if solid and mix with olive oil in large plastic container. Very carefully pour the lye into water (and not vice versa!) and mix with a metal spoon. Mix is very caustic, fatal if swallowed and it will burn the skin – wash immediately with vinegar if it does.

Designer soap
Sir the both mixtures together and whizz with a hand mixer until it reaches the ‘trace stage’ (when the mixer head leaves a trace of its trail). This took us about 15- 20 minutes. Quickly add essential oil and mix thoroughly.  Pour into a soap ‘cast’ and press any herbs or flowers onto the top layer. Leave to set at least one week, but probably longer (close to 5).  Sophie and I made the following:
Ode to Spring & France et Ecosse

France et Ecosse’ - Lavender oil with dried Lavender and Heather flowers
Ode to Spring’ - Lavender oil with tincture of Chickweed & Oats topped with winter flowers

Our competition tried Lavender oil with:
a tincture of Calendula Flowers
a topping of  Bladderwrack
a topping of Pine needles, Witch Hazel blossoms, Bog Myrtle & Lavender

The Soap Making Competitors

No comments: