I love old timey skills like breadmaking, cheesemaking, vegetable gardening, cooking from scratch, canning, etc. Lately I have been thinking about two old time skills which I have been wanting to try out for a long time, soapmaking and making homemade vinegars. I have read a lot about both things, but I have never felt comfortable trying them out for myself.
Soap has been produced by farm wives since the beginning of washing, but it requires the use of lye which is a caustic chemical. The lye is carefully blended with the oils/fats called for in the recipe in order to initiate saponification – the name for the reaction that forms soap from the combination of oils/fats and lye. Although the actual process is about as difficult as a middle school science project, the consequences for a mistake with the lye include serious chemical burns and/or lung damage from inhalation of fumes. Having said that, when the proper safety precautions are taken it is very unlikely that any injury will occur. The payoff for the slight risk involved is a batch of pure, natural and customized bars of soap with no chemical additives (the lye neutralizes during the curing process).
The other project I have been wanting to tackle is homemade vinegar. I am a huge fan of homemade food items because I think they taste great and I avoid food additives and preservatives whenever I can. I could buy organic vinegar of course, but where is the challenge in that? I like the creative process of making my own flavor profiles whenever possible, so homemade vinegar interests me. The thing that has stopped me is the perceived food safety issue of letting something get so sour that it becomes vinegar. Also, to make vinegar you must find and use a “mother”, this is a slimy goopy blob that is used to culture and ferment the vinegar. I have no idea where to obtain a vinegar mother, so that is another factor in why I have never tried making vinegar.
I am going to set these two projects as personal challenges. Besides being the type of fun, learning experiences that I enjoy, I feel that they both fit in very well with my attempts to live as green as possible. In my opinion, every item that we produce at home provides both a financial savings and an environmental savings as well. By making my own, I am sidestepping the environmental impact of the industrial system required to produce, transport and sell the same products.
If anyone has experience and/or advice to share with me on either soapmaking or making vinegar, I welcome your input!