September 23, 2020

18th Century Wash-Balls: Scented Body Soap

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

Bathing in colonial times evokes images of dirty rags and lard soap. In reality is there were many scented, colored, and augmented soaps available at perfumers and many receipts (recipes) to scent pre-made soap at home. 

I made these wash-balls with castile soap that I made over a full year ago so it has had plenty of time to cure. If you're interested in knowing more about castile soap, I've written quite a bit about it here.  All you need to know for this is that castile is an olive oil based soap, used in the 18th century for shaving and washing as is has a decent lather (for the time period.)

Castile soap can be bought online or in grocery stores. You can also use whatever you have lying around. They did have different color wash-balls but the coloring agents are not something I feel safe putting on my skin in modern times.  I'll update this post with how to color your wash-balls in a safe manner. I'm thinking "melt and pour colorant" is the best bet. 

Other recipes of the time called for rice flour, starch, or hair powder in 1/2 proportion to the soap to stretch it and to add color and extra scents. Hair powders came in white, orange, brown, gray, pink, red, blue and lavender. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

18th Century Wash-Balls


- Pre-made Soap
- Rose or other Flower Water (Other recipes from the time period suggest lavender, coriander, cloves, jasmine, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel, lemon juice, orange flower water, musk.)

1. Shred, grate, bash, crush, buy pre-masticated or take up the relaxing art of soap shaving. A large mortar and pestle would work best.

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

3. Heat up your soap in a double boiler, in the hot sun or just use the heat from your hands. You want the soap soft but not melted.  Add your scent liquid or water if you don't want to add a scent. (Don't do this with essential oils they will burn your skin.) Stir until well mixed. I did not heat mine, but heated up my rose water. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

4. Wet your hands and grab a handful and squeeze it into a ball. Add as much liquid as you need to get it to stick together. You want the balls as compacted as possible. 

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

Colonial Era Wash-Balls Soap

5. Let them dry in ball form for a week. You can scrape the outsides with a knife or peeler to make them smoother.

Castile really is great for shaving. I'm excited to try it out now that it's scented. This is a great activity to do with kids, unlike soapmaking which can be dangerous.

If you want to buy premade soap flakes and waters I recommend the products below:

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September 15, 2020

Civil War Era Kids Craft: Paper Boats | How to

What kid doesn't like playing with paper boats? It seems like magic that you can make a boat out of paper and even more so that paper can hold out water! You might find that kids today have never made or have seen paper boats and will find them as exciting and novel as kids in the 1860s and before.  

The instructions call for a piece of paper 6" x 4" but we also had luck with 8.5" x 11" sheets. They can be a little tricky to make so you might have to help the first few times but they'll get it eventually. These instructions are from The Boy's Own Toy-Maker (1859) but can be a little confusing, especially to younger readers. I've included a short video tutorial to try to clear things up a little bit.

Please let me know if you are interested in more Civil War kids activities or if there's a certain game or toy you'd like me to write about. 


These instructions are from The Boy's Own Toy-Maker (1859.) 

September 9, 2020

How to Render Lard and Tallow for Cooking, Soap Making and Cosmetics

In early America, grease pots were a ubiquitous part of a kitchen. Grease was collected during cooking and butchering and was later rendered (made clean), and used to make soap, candles, grease pans, for cooking, and cosmetics. Tallow is the rendered fat of a ruminant and lard is fat from pigs. 

Today, so much good fat goes to waste.   

I'm using fat that my family saved for me from tacos and meatloaf. I don't eat meat so I'm reliant on friends and family whenever I need lard or tallow. My fat wasn't too gross. Yours might have chunks of meat on it, and that's fine for this. Just chop it into pieces and melt. 

How to Render Lard

Put your fat in a pan on medium heat and add enough water to cover it.

Add 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of fat.

Heat until melted.

Pour into a sieve over a bowl.

Let the bowl Rest for 24 hours. 

Cut the tallow out of the bowl.

Rinse the tallow under running water.

You can repeat the process a second time with a finer sieve. Freeze in zip lock bags for up to a year. 

In the next few weeks I'll hopefully post a few tutorials on what you can do with rendered tallow. Stay tuned! 

September 2, 2020

Civil War Era Recipe | Apple Pancakes

Civil War Recipe for Apple Pancakes

I was very interested to try this recipe as it has molasses, cornmeal, and apples, three flavors that were very common during the Civil War that have since fallen out of fashion. I found the recipe in
The American Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book, 1850. The Housekeeper and Gardener (1858) stated to add "a little more flour than is given to a common pancake batter," so I added a bit more than I would for normal pancakes. 

We served ours with "maple molasses", as it was called then. They were very good. You can barely taste the cornmeal at all. We will be adding these to our regular food rotation. The recipe made about 12 pancakes so I would half it in the future. 

Civil War Recipe for Apple Pancakes


- 2 Cups Milk
- 1 Teaspoon Saleratus (Baking Soda)
- 1 Cup Corn Meal 
- 1 Cup Molasses
- 3 Apples, pared and minced 
- 3 +/- Cups Flour
- Fat or Oil for frying


Combine cornmeal, molasses, baking soda,minced apples, and milk. Mix in enough flour to make a slightly thicker than usual pancake batter. Fry in oil on medium heat until solid (about 1 minute). Flip pancakes over. Fry other side for another minute.  

August 28, 2020

Historical Kids Craft: Great Depression Paper Poppers

 This year has been weird, to say the least. My sister is a nurse so I have been spending most of my time being Nanny-Auntie to my nephew who is bouncing-off-the-walls energetic and starting 3rd grade next week. 

It’s been mostly exhausting and I’m sure others are feeling this way. We have been finding crafts and projects from the past to stay busy and paper poppers was a fast, easy history craft that kept him busy for hours. All you need is a sheet of paper. 

1930s Crafts for Kids Paper Popper

If you're interested in reading more about the Great Depression here is an affiliate link to the book we were reading about it. The Great American Depression book of fun. 

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