Friday, October 17, 2008

Heather recently gave us a lovely product review on her blog, and in the comments on that blog, she got a variation on that age-old question - "Why do they use lye to make soap? Isn't lye a toxic substance?".

This is a very, VERY common question that we get asked. Anyone who makes or sells handmade soap will invariably get asked this question. Heather did not know the answer to that question, so she asked us. We LOVE when customers ask questions!!! We wrote her a response, which she put on her blog (with our express permission). Because this is such a commonly asked question, I thought we'd put the answer here as well.


Let's start with the very basics. You cannot make soap without lye. Soap is
made by a chemical reaction occuring between fats (oils) and lye (sodium
hydroxide, or other similar alkaline substance....but we won't diverge into
that just now). The phrase "chemical reaction" is very important there - in
other words, those 2 ingredients, combine together and than CHANGE, to form
soap. Properly made soap, while made WITH lye, will not have any lye in it
at the end of the process. You will have saponified oils - also known as
soap. A quick check at your local library on any current cold process
soapmaking book will confirm those facts, as will this well-respected
soapmaking site:

Yes, Lye is a substance that must be treated with much respect. Improperly
used, it can be quite dangerous. However, used with care, caution, and
respect, it will turn ordinary oils into divine handmade soap that is very
good for your skin! As a point of fact, lye is also used to cure certain
types of food, such as lutefisk, hominy, and green olives. For more
information, you may visit this page:

There are many way to label soap -all falling within the letter of the law,
but some that "hide" the lye more than others. We believe in educating the
public, therefore we have "sodium hydroxide" listed right in the ingredients
list. Other soaps will have labels that say things like: "Saponified oils of
coconut, palm kernel, and olive", or list ingredients as "sodium tallowate"
or "sodium cocoate" (translation: saponified tallow, and saponified coconut
oil). These labels are technically correct - and still point to the same
process - lye combined with oils to create soap.

Liquid soap is handmade with a slightly different type of lye - Potassium
hydroxide, instead of sodium hydroxide ( or sometimes a combination of
both). The above facts remain the same, however - To make any soap, liquid
or bar, fats/oils must be combined with lye, and saponification then

Melt and pour soap is a quite different product - it is often comprised of
synthetic detergents, and we do not consider it a handmade product. Most
commercial liquid bodywashes are also quite full of synthetic sudsing
agents, colorants, petroleum-by-products and goodness knows what else -
frankly, we don't even consider them in the same realm as handmade soaps. We
personally prefer good handmade soap, made with lye, to artificial
ingredients we cannot pronounce. But to each their own!! :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We have another 3-farm Sample Sunday coming up this Sunday, October 19th! Join us at each of our 3 farms, between 12-5, and spend a delightful day in the country, sampling the harvest bounty of the midwest.

Here's what's happening:

Prairieland Herbs

Pete Mahlberg, from Dallas County Conservation, will be giving a talk on
"Critters of Dallas County" at 1pm. Perfect for the whole family! He will be on hand all afternoon
to answer questions, and share his display of artifacts and critters.

Guest Vendor Sally Kilkenny will be sampling and selling her delicious homemade jams!

Mary DouBrava will be giving free 5 minute Reiki treatments - a great chance to experience this energetic healing art.

Kristin Wilson, of Zoko Jewelry, will be selling her fantastic handmade jewelry.

We will be sampling our newest Biscuit Bars (soaps), check out our naturally dyed silk scarves from Girl With A Sword Productions, and we still have a few spots left for our Natural Cleansers and Natural Dyeing classes!!

Picket Fence Creamery

Hay rides in the pasture. Local food samples: pumpkin ice cream, elk sticks, cheese balls, tortellini,fresh peanut butter, Elvis muffins, Heirloom apples, honey, apple cider, Iowa wine & more.

$5 Lunch – Brats,fixins’, chips, milk & ice cream (Kids meal $3).

Kids – pony rides, hay maze, calves, kittens & free pencils.

Super Deals – 90% lean ground beef - $2.99/lb. with 10 lb. purchase; 5 lb bag local apples - $5; AppleCrisp & quart of ice cream $10.

NEWLocal gouda cheese & local homemade apple pies; free half pint ofice cream with $25 purchase; free coolers while they last.

(Maggie's note - THE GOUDA IS DIVINE. I've been getting this at the des moines farmer's market every chance I could get, and could NOT be happier that I can now buy it at Picket Fence. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Northern Prairie Chevre

Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy the music and singing of Tim Mitchum.

Snus Hill Winery, Tassel Ridge Winery, and La Vida Loca Winery will give out samples of their award-winning wines – all for sale in Miss Tillie’s !

Winter is coming! We’re raffling a beautiful hand- crocheted afghan that would make
a wonderful gift for that special someone – or yourself! Tickets are $1/ea or 6 for $5. Proceeds go to theSusan G. Komen Foundation.

Milton from Sheeder Farms will be selling bratwurst sandwiches for just $3!!
Chris has the deep fat fryer heated up and is selling Northern Prairie Chevre Fried Cheddar Curds for just$4. Delicious baked goods from Corn Crib Catering in Madrid.

Relax with Shannon, Massage Therapist, who is offering chair massages - $10/10 min. Mary Boyvey, Hoopnotica Certified instructor will be offering free classes on the hour (see photo below - that is her at the last Sample Sunday!), and have hoops available for all ages to try and/or purchase. Pat from Randol Honey will be sampling her creamed honey. Stock up on Sheeder Farms meats and eggs & various cuts of elk from Skeeter Creek Elk.

Kids – enjoy the swings and sand box in the front yard and make a special craft.
Six little 4-legged girls are looking for your attention!! Gary, Wendy and Lana will be giving
tours of the barn and will introduce you to all the girls. Honeybump and Stosha are looking
for kisses too! Come on in to Miss Tillie’s for samples of our cheese and MUCH MORE!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The pre-frost harvest continues....Yesterday I cut the last of our purple basil, to turn into delicious jelly. For those of you that don't know, purple basil has a very similar leaf shape and taste to "regular" pesto, but it is a DIVINE purple color. So, you can do really cool things like make purple basil vinegar with it, or make purple pesto.

Making purple basil vinegar couldn't be easier. You simply stuff fresh purple basil leaves into a glass jar, cover with vinegar, and let steep for a week or so. Strain out the leaves, and you have a gorgeous ruby-colored vinegar infused with the flavor of herbs. Salad, anyone?

Making Purple basil jelly is super-easy too - I have posted the recipe to our website. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This is SO exciting. Last year, we purchased a few saffron bulbs from The Rosemary House, just for fun - I mean, isn't it a great idea to grow the world's most costliest spice in your backyard? These little plants are amazing! They are a fall-blooming crocus, and are extremely easy to grow! We just popped them in the ground last fall, and pretty much forgot about them until *this* fall, when I noticed they had come up and - yes - even had actual saffron to harvest! I'm going to plant LOTS more! If you're interested in growing your own, I highly recommend it - they're inexpensive to purchase, grow beautifully in most places in the US, and are practically no maintenance.

And - just to show you how naughty Donna's little horses are - on these gorgeous fall days we simply leave the door of the shop open, to enjoy the sunlight and the breezes. Well, in their morning perambulations, the little horses just stopped on in to say hi! Delilah is on the left, and Baron on the right. Ollie, our mastiff-mix dog, is in the background - the babies are bigger than he is now!