Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Versatility of Goats

So, let’s talk goats. I have a friend who raises goats, and she makes all kinds of goat cheeses, goat’s milk ice cream (it’s SO good!), soaps, and lotions. The heroine of my latest novel set in the 1790s Mississippi territory has a small herd of goats, so I decided to research the various by-products that can be produced from goats.

Obviously, milk is the first thing that comes to mind. We’re used to pasteurized milk these days, but back in the 18th century, there were a lot fewer steps from milking to table. Milk the goat (or cow), strain the milk through a cheesecloth and drink. That was pretty much the entire process. They could keep milk cool in a crock in a root cellar or in a creek to make it last a bit longer, but if they weren’t going to drink it all before it spoiled, they made cheese, butter, and soap.

While goat’s milk cheese can be quite strong for some, I imagine our ancestors were quite used to strong cheese. Check out this cool video from The Townsend’s:  

I’d venture to say that a family with goats would make goat’s milk soap. I was surprised to find that making soap doesn’t require some magic ingredient or special containers. All you need is animal fat/grease—or vegetable/plant oil, water and ashes. And women in the past would have learned at an early age how to save their ashes and leach them to get lye. 

The primary ingredient is the potash or pearl ash from ashes. Pure potash can be achieved by leaching wood ashes. To do this under primitive conditions, take a small container with a small hole or holes punched through the bottom. Place a one-inch layer of gravel or sand in the bottom of the container, and a one-inch layer of sand on top of the gravel. The gravel and sand act as filters.

Fill the container with ashes from a cooled campfire. Place another container under the first container to catch the runoff and slowly pour about a gallon of water over the ashes allowing a brownish-gray water (the lye) to exit through the bottom into the second container.

Pour slowly. If the ashes start to “swim”, you are pouring the water too fast. During this process, if the lye coming out starts to lose its color, more ash can be added. Next, boil the lye water until more than half of the water has evaporated. The mixture may foam, and the resulting solution is potash or lye. Add lard, grease or animal fat to the boiling mixture and continue cooking for about 30 minutes.

When the desired consistency is reached, place the mixture into molds. The shape doesn’t matter: a wooden mold carved from a tree limb, a small coconut shell, seashells, anything will do. Let the mixture dry for about two days, then remove from the mold.

Can you think of a scent my 18th century characters would have added to their soap to give it a pleasing aroma? Wild honeysuckle is rampant in Mississippi and wild roses would be heavenly. In addition, there are over 50 different species of native orchids in Mississippi. I can imagine how wonderful that would smell. Do you enjoy homemade soaps? If so, what’s your favorite scent? What native flowers or other plants from your state would make a lovely scented soap?

These soaps on the left are made by my friends and they are lavender. Not only are they gorgeous, they smell divine!

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  1. I noticed you didn't mention eating goat. Gyros is made with goat's meat. Delicious. Very interesting article. I never knew one could make soap out of milk. cindyhuff11 at gmail dot com
    Cindy Huff

    1. Cindy, it slipped my mind to include goat meat. I was on a mission to find out which goats were meat goats and which were milk/dairy goats? Some breeds are better for producing lots of milk, while others grow out more meat.

      Same with cows... there are dairy cows and beef cattle. And, even in cows, different breeds have their pros and cons. Holsteins produce a TON of milk; Guernseys & Jerseys (generally) produce less milk, but with a much higher butterfat.

      Boer (not boar) Goats are considered meat goats. Nigerian Dwarf are considered milk goats.

      However, I would need to do more research to determine which of all these breeds were developed in the 18th century, and which ones my characters would have had access to. So, Alanah's goats were just plain old goats. lol

  2. I've made soap once with a friend. She used cinnamon and cloves and it smelled divine. The only thing I didn't care for was that the particular recipe doesn't give much lather. But it was fine, and great for gifts. Thanks for the post.

    1. I'm dying to go make soap with my friend. I want to help her milk goats one day and then make soap or cheese. I wonder what the soap needs to make it lather?

      And lather? Mr. Google says, "Different oils give different amounts and different types of lathers, so many soap makers turn to sugar to increase the suds. Adding a bit of sugar to a soap recipe can help make a light, bubbly lather with large bubbles when the oils you're using do not lather up as much as you'd like."

      Sugar makes it lather? Who knew?

  3. I toured a cheese factory in Ohio a long time ago. It was interesting to see the process. I've never tasted goat cheese, but then I'm not a huge cheese fan.

    1. My husband and I got to sample some cheeses in Wisconsin a couple of years ago. Like you, Vickie, I'm not a fan of sharp cheese. They had all this aged cheese... like YEARS. My husband loves cheese and even he was a little freaked out. He told me not to try a couple because he knew I would not like them at all.

      I did try my friend's goat cheese and it was a little strong, but not overly so. Now, the goat's milk ice cream she made for us to sample was so yummy. I'm not sure why it didn't taste strong or have a "whang" to it.