Soap: Making It, Enjoying It by Ann Bramson (with update)

I had to start my series with Soap: Making it, Enjoying it by Ann Bramson.   From what I've been able to gather, it's sort of the grandmama of modern soapmaking, written in the 1970s.


The Good:
-an overview of soapmaking in a most non-overwhelming, unintimidating way
-a history of soap from ancient times to soapmaking as an industry in America, along with the evolution of advertising
-an easy-reading book, 100+pages

The Not-so-Good
-by today's standards, includes numerous pieces of misinformation
-very simple recipes do not utilize many oils and additives currently used in soapmaking
-geared toward the beginner, not especially informative for the experienced soapmaker

The book itself is an example of the history of soapmaking, and as it is only a rudimentary lesson in soap, many things have changed in the 40-plus years since the book was written.  Many aspects would make modern soapers do a double-take.  A few examples:
-Recommending a scale that measures by the half ounce increments
-Hand stirring to trace stage could take anywhere from 30-90 minutes
-Adding commercial cold cream to a batch of soap
-Coloring soap with candle and fabric dyes
-Warning against adding fruit and vegetable purees into soap

I'll admit I didn't learn any earth-shattering information that will change the way I make soap, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless.  Actually, I found the book refreshingly simple.  It made me a little envious of a time when there were so few "rules."  Soapmaking has become so scientific and such an art form that function often seems secondary.  I've observed many new soapmakers all but apologize for uncolored, unscented soaps, perhaps cut a little crookedly and unbeveled.  Soap focuses on the practical use of soap, with side notes on making the bars a little pretty or fragrant when the mood strikes.  The entire chapter on coloring soaps, for example, is three pages, with a whoppin' one paragraph devoted to swirling (bluing and cocoa powder).

I chose to try two of her four basic recipes.  The first, Copra-Olive Oil, is described as "a creamy responsive soap.  The lather is exceptionally rich and nourishing."  It uses three ingredients that I use all the time, but in much different proportions.  While I'm pretty partial to my own recipe, sometimes you gotta live a little.

24 oz. olive oil
24 oz. coconut oil
38 oz. tallow

According to SoapCalc, it's a hard bar, but a little weak on the conditioning.  I cut the recipe down to a 20 oz. batch, so I could test a sample-sized bottle of a fragrance of Cucumber Wasabi Cilantro.   As for the scent, spite of not understanding the enticement of bathing with something that smells like a vegetable and firmly believing that cilantro is the surest way to ruin any Mexican dish, it wasn't so bad.

The second recipe she calls Palma-Christi, "a very mild soap, and dry skin should respond to it favorably."  SoapCalc indicates that it is more conditioning and bubbly than the first recipe.

9 oz. castor oil
22 oz. olive oil
22 oz. coconut oil
32 oz. lard

I again made a 20 oz. batch, this time scenting it with another fragrance sample called Barbershop 1920s.  It was a really soft recipe, even using a 33% lye concentration and took much longer to firm up than I'm accustomed to.  I added a simple touch of black and brown oxides.  I think I'm going to be putting bars strategically all around the house for the Mister to use, because it is one GREAT scent.

I'd like to tell you what I thought of these two recipes, but since I only made them last week, I'll have to add a P.S. next month to this post.


the late P.S.

I did try both the bars, if you wondered.  Both bars were about 5 weeks old.

Recipe #1--Cucumber Wasabi Cilantro.  It was nice, fair, adequate, and completely acceptable but without a wow factor.

Recipe #2--Barbershop 1920.  I had no information about how this fragrance behaved. Yikes.  It wasn't a stunner of a batch, but it hasn't improved with age.  I rarely experiece ash and partial gel but I got both.  Was it the fragrance that contributed?  The recipe?  I don't know.  BUT, I love how it feels on my skin, as I used it and especially afterwards!  I would have guessed that it contained a butter of some sort instead of 37% plain ol' lard.  Ages ago, one of my favorite recipes was also high in lard (62%); somehow I have overlooked in the years since, but I think I need to find a place for lard again.


  1. It's funny reading old how-to books. We've come a long long way.
    I also have the cucumber wasabi f.o. It is so well-behaved, but smells too strongly of vegetable. I love cilantro, by the way.
    Looking forward to your reviews of the 2 soaps. :-)

    1. It's amazing how much things have changed...

      Yes, I'm just not sold on smelling like a vegetable and I really wish I could like cilantro, but I just can't--and I've tried. All I smell/taste is crayon. Or sometimes plastic. Not good, either way.

  2. That is super cool! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Both soaps are gorgeous, Amy! Thanks for sharing that book - it looks like interesting reading.

    1. It is an interesting read, more for soap history than anything else, but good anyway!

  4. Very cool Amy, looking forward to seeing what you think of these recipes after cure!

    1. I'm anxious to try them out, too, Cee Gee! :)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts