Soap - Making It, Enjoying It
The Bottom Line:
Ann Bramson's second edition of Soap - Making It, Enjoying It ignited a cottage industry. The opening chapter begins the book by enthusiastically describing the unique charms of handmade soap in relation to store-bought, and it's hard to not be caught up in the author's obvious love for this craft. Short, inexpensive, and providing instructions on rendering fat into tallow, a number of recipes, and pithy stories sprinkled throughout, it's a must have.
The Nitty Gritty:
Ann Bramson's Soap is a very basic introduction to the notion of making your own soap. She provides several of her own recipes and much practical advice in a brisk, easy to read volume. Additionally, she provides illustrations for most of the soapmaking process and liberally tosses in period ads for soap products which are really fun to read. She also includes a very comprehensive chapter on the history of soapmaking and soap use, from ancient times to the present, which is surely useful for anyone curious about this simple but ubiquitous item.
The book suffers only slightly from its thirty years of publication. Some of the advice about soapmaking oil pricing is obviously out of date, and in two places she gives instructions with which most soapmaking authorities would disagree: in one, she instructs soapmakers to add water to lye which is an obvious safety hazard; and in the second, she mentions that it's okay to use laundry bluing to dye soap, when laundry bluing is a product not intended at all for use on the skin and may react poorly to lye. She also waxes a little bit more restrictive than I generally would, advising that you shouldn't make batches of less than the size she recommends -- six-plus pounds in some recipes -- because it can be difficult, or insisting on 95-98°F temperatures, which I haven't found to be at all that necessary. Those points aside, the rest of the book is still excellent and such a fun introduction to the topic, it's something I recommend all new soapers read.
The book is paperback, bound in a shiny plastic-coated thick stock paper, and very durable. The pages are still in excellent shape after several years, no yellowing or brittleness. It's a real steal for the price.