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That Medieval Thing...

While I was an undergraduate student at Drew University (Madison, NJ) there was a reenactment group, known as That Medieval Thing. I recall the participants practicing swordship on the lawn near Hoyt dorm, and for some weird reason I had that on my mind today.

So...I started thinking about my upcoming spring collection of soaps, what could I make that was original and fit within my passion for all things natural and sustainable. I thought, well, why not try out some old recipes for soap? Why not, I am an Historian...

The process of making soap has not changed much since ancient times. Combining water with ash (to create sodium hydroxide/lye) forms the mechanism for changing oils/fats to soap. Saponification cannot happen without it. Now...I like to do things rustically, but since we get very little rain where I am in Southern California (I do plan to capture some rainwater to try out truly from scratch) I am still using modern purchased lye and distilled water.

The image below is from the sustainability wiki and shows soapmaking in Wisconsin in 1884.

However, I did find an essential oil that I am going to use, Medieval Mix, from Aura Cacia as a scent. There were two types of soap in Europe during this period, black soap, or soft soap, and white soap. Black soap was made using land-based plant ash, creating a softer soap. White soap, more desired, used marine plant ash to make the lye water. I plan to make a hard soap, using tallow (animal fat) as either olive oil or tallow were traditionally used. Since olive oil takes a lot longer to cure, I plan to use lard instead with some other oils mixed in for creaminess and lather.

Back to the scent. Aura Cacia's Medieval mix includes lavender, orange, lemon, thyme, rosemary, tea tree and eucalyptus oils and it smells heavenly (no pun intended). I tend to gravitate towards spicy and woody fragrances, and this one reminds me of a walk in the Cloisters Museum in New York I did years ago. I taught a course on European History and took my students on a field trip to the museum. The gardens there are amazing, as are the exhibits! If you ever get to New York, or live close enough to drive, I highly recommend a visit!

Another bar I plan to make that is reflective of the period is a Honey Saffron Turmeric bar. Saffron, the pistil of a crocus flower (Crocus sativus) has been used for millenia in cooking, it is one of my most favorite things. When I was a girl, my mother used to make saffron rice, especially if I was not feeling well. Saffron always reminds me of my childhood! It smells wonderful and provides an orange color to cooking. Jo Malone used to make a saffron scent, but it was discontinued. Have yet to find anything close to that scent.

Enough of my rambling about saffron, the second bar in the collection will also be a tallow bar, but this one will include bee pollen, saffron (of course), and honey fragrance. A sprinkle of saffron colored salt on the top will complete this bar.

My third bar in this collection will be something with roses. Roses were also quite popular during the medieval period. Noblemen and women washed their hands and faces not only with white soap, but also with water infused with rose petals. Rosewater appears in many medieval cooking recipes. Rosee, a rose custard, was quite popular in Europe; the Romans ate a meal of calf brains scrambled with eggs and rose petals. The Persians used and still use (Modern day Iran) rose water in many recipes, as well as saffron! I have made saffron ice cream, rose water custard, and candied rose petals on cakes. I have a large sack of Egyptian rose petals (some from my trip to Cairo, others purchased from Starwest Botanicals) that I plan to make a rose scented soap lighter than the Rocky Mountain Rose bar I made in honor of my Husband

I thought, well, wine was also a common beverage during the medieval period, as was beer, so I plan to make some alcohol themed soaps, including a Stout soap, a Cabernet Soap, a Gin Martini Soap, and a Pina colada soap. Of course, the pina colada was not invented during the Medieval period in Europe (it was invented in Puerto Rico), but it will round out a nice collection of historically based and interesting soaps!

My new fragrances arrive tomorrow, so part of my November will be creating some new soaps! Cannot wait and until next time, stay Soapful! Dawn

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