The Soapmaker's Companion - Book Review
The Soapmaker's Companion has been in print for more than ten years. My copy of this book is worn and stained from many soapmaking sessions. Despite the drift of time and my accumulated knowledge, this is one book that I return to frequently for review of all that pertains to Soapmaking. One of the strong points of this book is that it gets you up and running making soap. The recipes work their way from the relatively simple Soap Essentials Bar comprised of a basic coconut/olive/palm oil mixture to more complicated recipes such as transparent soap and soap in the round. While Susan Miller Cavitch notes that this book is not that much of a basic book, yet I believe that even if one has never made soap before, this is an excellent book to start with.
Firstly, the book starts off with the basics of soapmaking – The things that we should all know about soapmaking and the ingredients germane to making it. Covered in detail are the bricks and mortar of soapmaking- an in-depth discussion of much that one questions when first making soap but which one finds out through much trial and error. The book opens up with a short perusal of soapmaking ingredients such as oils, colorants, scents and additives and lye safety- Then it’s off to the kitchen to make soap!
Susan Miller Cavitch teaches with examples. Though this book reveals the complexities of making soap yet this is done with interesting facts and tidbits about soap and its ingredients. The recipes start from the very simple to the more complicated all the while interspersed with technical information along the way. The wonderful thing about this book is that you do not have to read the whole book to understand how to make soap. The reader starts off with the basics of soapmaking, with simple recipes paving the way for more elaborate recipes which are further enhanced with the theoretical groundwork necessary to understanding the whys and hows of making soap, such as oil properties and their impact on the final product, troubleshooting common problems, essential oil combinations, and even a little chemistry for those who long to understand the more complex facets of the soapmaking process.
This book is certainly not a dry read. Formulations range from the very simple to the very sophisticated and esoteric – Some of my favorites are her formulations for milk soap, transparent soap, absolutely natural laundry gel with borax and vinegar, gum rosin soap, insect repellant soap, layered soap, and buried treasure soap.
My one caveat with this book, though it is one of my favorite soapmaking books is its lack of color pictures of the process. Rather there are line drawings which illustrate much of the information. Still, this is a minor complaint because in my initial soapmaking experience I purchased many books on soapmaking with numerous pictures that did not further my understanding and grasp of the subject the way this book has. I return to it time and time again to review the basics, to troubleshoot problems and to find a more indebt discussion of the chemical underpinnings of the soapmaking process.
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