- Event Calendar
- Local Living
The Magic of the Market
The process of making soap is magical to me. A delicate balance takes place in combining ingredients to make a bar of soap that is cleansing, healing, and aromatic. The creation of soap can be likened to the creation of a new combination of foods that nourish the body while pleasing the senses. Staples in our cupboards today came out of someone’s imagination, borne out of the necessity of planning meals that also nourish the body and keep it healthy. Combining ingredients that were readily available, such as berries growing in the wild that became pie or jam, are now written about in our favorite cookbooks and magazines. Roasted game meat with root vegetables all found and harvested in the wild kept each member of the family one step away from starvation in earlier times, and perhaps even today to some extents. Combining lye, water, oils, and perfumes from herbs, flowers, and spices is a time-honored tradition insuring cleanliness and health, preserving life.
Sandy Maine writes in The Soap Book, the history of bathing and the production of soap dates to 2500 B.X., when the first recipe for soap was discovered on Sumerian clay tablets found in the region of what is now known as Southern Iraq. Our ancestors recognized the necessity of cleanliness and utilized such plants as soapwort, yucca, and horsetail to clean their bodies and clothes. The intentional production of soap since then utilizes alkaline salts to produce the cleansing substance, softened with fats that make it safe for use on the skin. The Roman baths created about 300 years B.C. laid a foundation in that culture of cleanliness. The fall of the Roman Empire occurred nearly 500 years A.D., contributing to the decline of the popularity of soap and bathing. Some believe that the terrible plagues of the Middle Ages were aggravated because of the lack of cleanliness of the time.
Maine tells us that guilds organized the mass production of soaps, creating positions for apprentices, journeymen, and Master Soapmakers during the 7th Century. Italy, France, and Spain were early production centers because of the high quality of olive oils and barilla, a substance used to produce lye. Scientific advancements were created in Belgium, France, and England during the mid-1800’s, enhancing the quality and quantity of soap production in Europe and in America. Soap became readily accessible and in the 1970’s deodorant soaps were created, followed by specialty soaps. Making soap as a personal expression of creativity was lost, leading to the revival of the cottage industry for soap making in the early 1970’s.
Joining the ranks of more than 6000 home producers of soap has taught me about the healing nature of herbs I had never before used for cooking our meals and for cleaning our home. Making my own cleaning products, skin care lotions and cleansers, and experimenting with new herbs in preparing everyday meals has made me much more aware of the simplicity at hand. The time it takes to prepare the recipes for natural products that cleanse and protect my body and home is minimal. The gratification in knowing that everything I use is not toxic, and mostly edible is a tremendous comfort, and much more affordable than brand names available in the world.
The Farmers’ Markets begin in June, and they are full of entrepreneurs who have discovered the joy of creating their own products that fill a need in their community. The economic downturn impacted many people in America. A little encouragement from friends and family has given some the incentive to step out of their safety net and try something bold. The atmosphere of the Farmers’ markets reflects the excitement, fear, and drive that is required to present to the world a product that holds so much of each artisan in its’ creation. Some people have worked all winter to present handmade dishcloths, towels, and other woven articles. Some have spent their time in a shop creating wooden fixtures and furniture, quietly turning the lathe, and sanding the finished product. Others have transferred the beauty of the landscape or a face onto a canvas that can be appreciated all year long in someone’s home. Herbs can be purchased alone or in a useable form such as in soaps and bath products, combined in lovely breads and ready to eat foods for a summer picnic on the lawn. Gardeners come from many miles away to provide us with fresh vegetables and herbs. And if you are not sure how to prepare them, simply ask the seller who will happily provide you with a simple recipe for preparing the foods quickly, yielding the best flavor. Our markets also include fresh fruits from Washington and Oregon, fresh goat cheese and the pork nourished by those foods grown on the Almatheia dairy farm.
The devotion and dedication these entrepreneurs share with one another and with their customers creates a lifestyle that is unique and delicate. Sharing our life work over the years includes sharing one another’s joy and sorrows, victories and life changes we experience. The exchange of healthy, handmade products that nourish and protect our bodies for the money that supports the small business is the very essence of supporting community that sustains us all. Enjoy the magic of this summer’s Farmer’s Markets. There are many to choose from and they all support the local economy. Now that we have become visible to the rest of the world, thanks in part to the efforts of Senator Max Baucus, let’s show them how it is done, Montana style. See you there!
Jan and her daughter Rose created Bath Thyme last year, making soaps, oatmeal herb mixtures, bath salts, and milk baths. Jan is the author of The Art of Money Management, published in 2005.