Cleaning Up Sweetly
About 5000 years ago, some ancient Babylonian discovered after he roasted some fatty meat over a fire, that the greasy ashes, when wet, formed some bubbles. From that early beginning and through millennia of mixing various ingredients, soap making today in Dwight and Sharon McMillan’s kitchen is an act rooted in love.
Their middle daughter was born with eczema that erupted into additional allergies when she herself was pregnant. In an effort to help her find a soap that would ease her skin, Dwight and Sharon discovered a new passion. I joined them while they prepared one 10-pound batch of lavender soap.
After laying a protective cover on the floor, they slipped on their gloves and goggles. The lye is the factor that requires extra care. Using numerous ingredients, many of which are organic, they carefully weighed and mixed.
The soap made includes distilled water, lye, avocado oil, coconut oil, palm oil, unrefined shea butter, organic soybean oil, and sunflower seed oil. These are mixed together using a hand blender and carefully removing air bubbles. Once it has thickened to the right consistency they add some dried and ground dandelion leaves for specks in the soap to help identify this kind from others they may have prepared but not yet cut and boxed. Then they add the fragrance oil.
The mold is lined with freezer paper to help remove the soap after it hardens. The soap can be cut into blocks one to two days after processing. It then will stay in storage for three to eight weeks to cure. That helps it harden more and will last longer for the consumer.
The McMillans have been making soap for fun for quite some time but started their business, Brookstone Soaps, in July 2012. They sell in the Wild Ramp Market and three other retail outlets, on the Internet and to friends and family. They hope to be juried into Tamarack this year and have some ideas of some other marketing for future outlets.
They would like to develop a way to process 100 pounds of soap at the same time instead of just ten. Still, working inside the kitchen is preferential to their earlier efforts inside their garage. Their neighbors were a bit concerned about just what was being manufactured until they received their own bars.
Dwight and Sharon McMillan
Huntington, West Virginia