Continuing a Family Tradition of Soap Making

My great-great grandmother’s name was Alice Ross. She was born in upstate New York in 1887. She raised my mother from the time she was 18 months old until she was nine years old, in Coxsackie, New York. My mother remembers at home her great grandmother always wore a bib apron safety-pinned onto her cotton dress. Her daily life was busy and uncomplicated — no television with endless programming; no social telephone calls. Rising with the sun, Alice Ross’s day began early — to get the wood stove lit for the days meals.

Every meal was homemade from scratch — breads, cakes, roasts and stews. Everything was cooked and baked using her wood burning stove. As a result, there were always ashes from the stove and rendered lard from the fat of cooked meats and these were collected in an ever-present container kept close to the stove. From these two ingredients, ashes and lard, Alice Ross made brown household soap. The brown soap was always available for cleaning. Her laundry was done mostly by hand. First using a big round tin tub filled with water, she would rub the wet items with brown soap then scrub them on a wood framed washboard. After that everything went into an old washing machine with rollers to wring out excess water before being hung outdoors on a clothesline to dry.

I got into soap making in part because of the stories my mother told me about watching my Great-Great Grandma Alice make soap. Having a science background, my curiosity led me to experiment with making my own soap. The first time I witnessed the reaction of the oils and lye, then waited for the curing time to be over, I was rewarded with a nice homemade bar of soap – and I was hooked.

I’ve been making soap for almost 10 years and I appreciate the soap making tradition in my family. Soap making became a hobby that would also remind me of the stories I heard about my great-great grandmother who was kind, resourceful, and knowledgeable about so many things.

Now Annie, aka Annalisa (I have called her Annie since I was 3 years old), and I make soaps with the same resourcefulness, love, and kindness as my Great-Great Grandmother Alice.

~ Halima Da Costa