One of the long-standing Appalachian winter season traditions is hog killing and lye soap making. In addition to meat, the hog also provided enough meat fat through the spring, and one of the uses of lard was for making lye soap. Roger Hicks writes in his blog My Appalachian Life that “We usually killed our hogs sometime near Thanksgiving or Christmas and generally wanted the weather to be cold if possible since meat was easier to cure and keep in the cold.”
Hope Thompson also shares her memories of her family making soap and butchering hogs at Candid Slice, an NC online magazine. “Most folks,” she writes, “made soap from saved table fat scraps of pork, beef, mutton and tallow. My grandma made her lye soap with lard made from the hog we killed.”
The first Foxfire Book published in 1972 tells of the Hog Scalding pot, which was used to loosen and remove the animal’s hair for butchering later. When the men weren’t scalding hogs, the woman of the house would use it to make soap. You can see a scalding pot once used for scalding hogs at the The Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center in Mountain City, GA.
Before the introduction of commercial lye in 1836, women made their own in an ash hopper, a contraption made of planks of wood into a V-shaped bin that would catch rain and make it easy to pour ashes into. From the ash hopper, the lye would run into a bucket. You can find more details of how the original ash hopper was used here.
The next step in making soap is to heat the hog fat, meat scraps and left over lard in a kettle until all the liquid is rendered from the solids. Then, mix in fresh water and lye to the clean grease to make the soap mixture to be poured into molds.
Sidney Saylor Farr writes about her memories of helping her mother make lye soap in Appalachian Heritage Literary Magazine, “When ready to make soap, she cut the dried guts into short lengths and put them into her big black kettle along with fat trimmed from the organs and the residue from the rendered fat. After pouring water into the kettle she mixed in the appropriate amount of lye, and then boiled the mixture into soap.”
If you want to make lye soap in your own kitchen, Mother Earth News has all the details in an online article, “How to Make Soap from Ashes.” If you’d rather make soap the old-fashioned way, The Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center has a workshop on lye soap making planned for May 5th from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm for $75. For more information about the class and to purchase tickets, you can click here.
The benefits of daily cleansing with homemade soap include healing dry, itchy skin and getting rid of rashes and other irritations. Got Mountain Life offers handmade goat’s milk soap for sale from one of its own artisans.