The Love Of Soap, Mama’s Old Fashioned Lye Or Modern Goat Milk

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 23, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Some years ago I went with my son-in-law to a goat farm near Kendleton to buy some goat milk, which I had read was the healthiest milk to drink; upon bringing a couple bottles home, I discovered after one big swallow of the stuff, I couldn’t stand the taste of it. However, the owners of the farm did also sell goat milk soap, so I was able to buy some really good goat milk soap, which is the only kind of soap my wife and I have been using for decades.

            By the way, over the centuries, there have been arguments among those who have a fixation on proper grammar, about the proper form for writing “goat milk.” Do you write “goat milk” (using “goat” as a noun adjunct), or “goats milk” (without an apostrophe), “goat’s milk” (singular possessive), or “goats’ milk” (plural possessive)? Singular possessive would say the milk is from one goat; plural possessive would say the milk is from more than one goat; thus many grocers advertized it without an apostrophe. Because the argument about to apostrophe or not to apostrophe or where to apostrophe, I choose to use the noun adjunct form, “goat milk.”

            My wife and I use goat milk soap mainly because health professionals have said it is good for the skin, because it doesn’t dry out the skin like other types of soap. Some even believe it is good for folks, like me, who suffer from eczema, keeping your skin soft and smooth. Freshly made goat milk soap does not lather as well as other soaps, but after it has aged for a while, it lathers quite well. Health professionals are also saying that it cleans your hands and body of germs just as well as anti-bacterial soaps do.

            However, I like goat milk soap, not because of all those highly praised health benefits, but simply because it reminds me of the homemade lye soap my mother and grandmother used to make and swear by. Now, Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap did not promise to make your hands soft and smooth, like goat milk; in fact, after using it to scrub clothes on a rub board, it left your hands pretty doggone raw! The good thing about Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap was that it got your clothes cleaner than anything else and it would get rid of bad stains. Because of the lye and animal fat, it could be used for soothing poison ivy, skin rashes, and bug bites.

            Mama, like Grandma, made her soap with hog lard, water, and lye; she wouldn’t let us help her make it because lye was “too dangerous” to use. Her homemade lye soap came out of the process a light tan color and had little dark-brown specks in it. I was told that the little brown specks were pieces of sizzled pigskin in her homemade lard. Except for the brown specks, the natural color of goat milk soap reminds me of her old-fashioned lye concoction, and that’s the main reason I like it, soft hands or no soft hands.

            Unfortunately, goat milk soap is usually more expensive than other types of soap, but you can get it cheaper at a goat milk farm than in a fancy lady’s gift shop. Of course, goat milk farms don’t smell as nice as fancy lady’s gift shops, and that’s all right with me. Because of the expense, I once thought of trying to make my own goat milk soap, but discovered that made from scratch, goat milk soap required the use of lye, just as Mama’s soap did, and I still have this fear of using lye. Because of the power of the lye, one of the goat milk making instructions said to freeze the goat milk first. The whole process sounded much to problematic for me to attempt. I have discovered, however, in recent years, that you can buy a ready-made goat milk soap base, which means someone else has already done the lye work for you. Oh well, I’m too old to make my own now, and try to order it directly from a goat farm, where you can get bigger ounce bars for less.

            My wife likes the way goat milk soap leaves your skin soft and smooth, and I like the way it seems to keep my eczema under control (and smells a lot better than Noxema, the old eczema remedy), but, for me, it’s got to have that Mama’s soap look to it! I even found some once with dark-brown specks, but don’t think they were pigskin bits.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

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