Commercially-made soap could be bought, but it was very expensive and not always available, especially out on the New York frontier in 1774. So, this was something that was made at home (along with candles) from animal fats and the accumulated ashes from the fireplace(s). Lye was caustic and not easy on the hands, to put it mildly (no pun intended). But it did its job well. This concoction was added to the “copper,” usually a large pot that would also double as cooking vessel, which was placed over the fire built from those unwieldy logs lugged in for the purpose and those 30-40 gallons of water hauled from the creek. It was a hot and sticky job, agitating the contents with paddles, then extricating the steaming articles, rinsing and wringing them before setting them to dry.
Starching was also done, a task that I am most thankful has lost its popularily. But they did it on a common basis. Without Niagara Spray Starch. Instead, they used water collected after cooking potatoes. (Fascinating how they made ample and varied use of pretty much everything they raised, produced, or created with their hands.)
I hope you enjoyed this little journey into the past. Please check out the first installments of Book We Love’s “Canadian Historical Brides” series of novels. Comments are always welcome :-)