It was a solid provincial business of use to all sides, and it continued to manufacture basic lines in antiseptic lavender water and soap. While others became heroes and traitors, Marthe, blind and considered no use to anyone, was quietly experimenting with scent combinations, not using expensive ingredients like ambergris or violet-leaf absolute, but those close to hand from plants that grew freely all around, the familiar scents of her home.
From The Lantern
This description of the Distillerie Musset and the young Marthe learning her craft during the dark days of the Second World War in occupied
was the starting point for the novella on which I’ve been working so hard these past few months. From the reactions to The Lantern it seemed there was definitely a curiosity to know more about Marthe and how she became a Parisian perfumier from such a humble start, with the added difficulty of her disability. France
The first draft has just gone out to my trusted first readers, so I don’t want to say too much more about it now. But I hope it will appeal to the senses in the same way as the novel, as well as providing a surprising twist on events.
So while my fingers are crossed, I’m going to offer you a recipe for lavender soap. The difficulty with looking for old French recipes was that the ingredients might be unfamiliar to many of you in
America, so this is from Mission Peak in . This is a professional quality soap, so well worth having a close read, if only for interest. They also run soapmaking classes so if you’re interested in learning more, clickety-click on their website here: California
For a batch of soap of 100 ounces (in weight) in oil, the following is a breakdown of the oils used in the soap (you can make half this batch... one quarter this batch…etc. Just get your calculator out and divide each component of the recipe accordingly):
All amounts shown are weights.
Basic Oil Components
- 40 ounces of olive oil*
- 31 ounces of coconut oil*
- 29 ounces of palm oil*
- 100 ounces - total oil*
- 30 ounces of distilled (or rain) water
14 to 14.78 ounces of Sodium Hydroxide (Lye). 14 ounces of Lye is the minimum you should use. 14 ounces of Lye results in a 5% "superfatted" soap and would be a "dry skin" formula. 14.78 ounces of Lye is the maximum amount you should use. Using 14.78 ounces of Lye would be a "Normal/Oily Skin" formula. In practice - the Soap Maker at Mission Peak Soap usually takes the midpoint between these 2 values - that would be 14.39 ounces of lye.
Fragrance: 4 & 1/4 tablespoons (yes, tablespoons) of Lavender Essential Oil (lavendula dentata and/or Lavendin) and 2 Tablespoons of Rosemary Essential Oil.
Dry Herb: Your choice. 2 level tablespoons of finely ground dried Rosemary adds a nice touch. Lavender buds are a little scratchy...
Put on your rubber gloves and eye protection. Have rinse water handy for Lye that may come in contact with you. Better yet - keep a mild vinegar solution handy to counteract any spilled Lye. Work in a well ventilated area.
- Get your molds ready. Lay them all out. Professional molds are nice. Small dixie cups work OK and make nice little round soaps that look like cupcakes. Any other kind of plastic tray molds (Tupperware) work fine also. A casserole dish lined with plastic wrap is also nice (don't forget the plastic wrap!). Figure that a full batch of soap as outlined above (100 ounces of oil, 14 ounces of Lye and 30 ounces of Water) is about 150 fluid ounces. Read the containers you plan to pour the soap into. If they say "6 fluid ounces" - you're going to need at least 25 of them to hold all of your soap. Have extras handy. Get them ready.
- Pre-measure your dried Rosemary and Essential Oils and set aside. Some essential oils melt plastic. You might want to use a steel measuring cup for the essential oils.
- Stir the Lye into the (cold) Water. Set aside. Stir occasionally. Use distilled (or rain) water. Don't breathe the fumes from the lye mixture.
- Warm olive, coconut and palm oils in a large pot. Keep the temperature at about 120 degrees.
When Lye has cooled to 130 degrees:
- Combine oils and Lye/Water mixtures when both are between 125 to 130 degrees. Stir with whisk for 1 minute. Add the dried herb. Stir for another minute.
- Continue stirring occasionally until mixture starts to thicken - about 30 minutes. You can use a stick blender - for a couple of bursts. However, this oil mixture thickens fairly well without a lot of excess agitation. Add essential oils (warm essential oils if possible). Stir well one last time.
- Pour thickened mixture into molds. Use a ladle if necessary. Don't touch the soap with your hands. Use spatula to clean out pot. (note: If you are pouring into small molds, you'll want to start pouring before the mixture is so thick it's not pourable. For a single, larger mold, you can let the emulsion thicken somewhat further.)
Leave soap in the molds for 3 days undisturbed in a warm place covered with cardboard and a towel. Then, for soap in small molds, place soap overnight in freezer. Pop frozen soap from molds onto white paper towels. Let dry in warm, dry place for 30 days before using. If you have used a larger mold lined with plastic wrap - you won't need to freeze the soap to get it out of the mold. Just turn it upside down over a cutting board, peel off plastic wrap and cut into usable sized pieces. Place the pieces on white paper towels and let dry for 30 days.
This recipe makes a wonderful, long-lasting, fragrant (but not over-powering) soap suitable for bathing and hand-washing.
*A word from
: “We sell a pre-blended mixture of the oils shown above, ready for soapmaking. If you're new to soapmaking, a pre-blended container of oils will save you a lot of time and money over ordering the materials individually, and blending them precisely together. We guarantee our blended oils will make a nice bar of soap when used properly.” Mission Peak
With thanks to David Critchfield at Mission Peak Soap for permission to use this.