An item that we use each and every day, probably four or more times per day, soap is something that [as Americans] we couldn’t imagine living our lives without, but most likely have no idea where it originated.
Because I mean, you just can’t say with all honesty that you envision cave men using a bar of soap to cleanse their loincloths (I know, I know- sorry Geico). Nor can you confidently claim that your great, great, grandmother went to the corner Walgreens to pick up a bottle of Dove Body Wash—pomegranate & lemon verbena scent, of course—when she needed a little scrub in the tub.
No, soap wasn’t one of God’s great creations, but it instead came about (like most great inventions) by accident.
A Brief History of Soap
*As told to PRB by Kathleen Souder, co-owner of Rainwater Farm, who would like it to be noted that she is not an official Soap Historian.
- Most simply, soap is a mixture of lye and fat, which once mixed together, create a chemical reaction that turns the two into a solidified mixture.
- Thousands of years ago when man treated the slaughter of an animal as a ceremonial sacrifice, they would perform the ceremony on top of a hill. That way the rain and gravity would wash away any of their leftover mess, including the ash from the fire and the unnecessary fat.
- Lye, one of the two main components to making soap, can be derived from leaching the ashes of a fire (very simply, mixing them with water).
- So when the rain did come, and the ash and fats were washed down, and the alkaline properties of the lye (from the ash) mixed with the discarded animal fat, that mixture ultimately ran off into the stream.
- Soon people realized that, in the wake of the animal sacrifices, their clothes would get cleaner in the river. Eventually the connection was made: ash + water + fat = clean.
So while large-scale companies like Johnson & Johnson, for example, have simplified the matter for consumers, mass-producing soaps of all different kinds and smells—oh glory!!—what they’ve in turn taken away is the age-old cycle of utilization and sustainability.
And although the pomegranate & lemon verbena scented Dove Body Wash does smell amazing and makes shower time a true delight, what we often don’t think about while in the midst of that fruity and flowery mist are the chemical-riddled ingredients that we’re slathering all over our skin.
“I know it’s incredibly cliché to say,” said Kathleen when we met to talk soaps, “but your skin is your body’s largest organ…so shouldn’t we be directing just as much attention to what we’re putting on our bodies as we are about what we put in to it?
Touché, Kathleen. We hear you loud and clear.
Here at PRB we are all about providing our customers with foods that will nourish them from the inside out. We sell locally and responsibly raised meats that lack hormones and antibiotics; we refuse to sell anything that contains preservatives; and we only work with products and ingredients that we can both read easily and clearly pronounce.
Rainwater Farm feels the same.
“I’ve noticed that people have a pretty strong vocabulary around eating well, but that vocabulary and knowledge base isn’t quite as pronounced in the realm of body products and cosmetics,” Kathleen said, “but I think people know its something they should start thinking about.”
As a way to both hearken back to that traditional “pioneer method” of soap-making and to additionally fuel the cycle of sustainability and utilization, we’re excited to announce that Rainwater Farm is now using Porter Road Butcher tallow as a base for their soap.
PS – Tallow is the rendered kidney fat (which also known as suet) of a cow. Most commonly it is used in cooking (often for frying) and in soap-making.
Tallow-based soap is not only amazing for your skin, but to be able to use something that could otherwise be tossed in the trash and then to have that sustainable approach to what you use as a body product is something that we think is pretty f*cking cool.
Kathleen Souder began making soap when she was just eight years old in the kitchen of her mother’s home. A sibling among six others and a daughter of one aspiring soap-maker Colette Souder, Kathleen has memories of helping her mother stir and mix soaps in their Maryville home way back when. Today, decades later, she’s decided to return to her roots and is producing and selling her mother’s soaps in Nashville, while Colette keeps things going in Knoxville.
So while the business is growing, the need for supplies has (obviously) grown along with it.
“It solved a huge supply-chain problem for us, working with Porter Road Butcher Meat Co. We are going through thousands of pounds of tallow a year, and we were having trouble finding it. Now we have a source that is local and trustworthy, so we’re thrilled to have formed this partnership.”
Rainwater Farm makes their soap with a formulation that is considered “super-fatted” due to the higher ratio of fat to lye, which makes it even more nourishing for your skin. They use PRB tallow, olive oil, and coconut oil in the fat department, and the rest of the soap consists of other easily legible and familiar items: rainwater, sodium hydroxide (that’s the lye), and essential herbal oils.
So since these soaps fit with what we’re all about, and since one of the things that we’re all about is being clean (and since one of the things that James is all about is essential oils…yes, that’s for real), and of course since they’re using our tallow to make the stuff, we’re now proud to be selling Rainwater Farm Soaps at both Nashville shops!
Currently we have four varieties of soap—Orange Ginger, Summer Mint (with oatmeal!), Rosemary Mint, and Geranium—all of which smell delightful and come with adorable messages on the back from mama Colette. We’ll likely be expanding our soap collection as time goes by, so if there’s a certain variety you’re vying for, let us know!
Rainwater Farm additionally sells a variety of other products, from body washes to laundry soaps, which you can find at the 12 South Farmer’s Market in Sevier Park on Tuesdays (4:30 – 6:30 pm) and the East Nashville Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays at Shelby Park (3:30 – 7:00). Check out their full line of products at Rainwaterfarm.com or stay up to date with their whereabouts by following their Instagram @rainwater_farm