Farm Tips: Rendering Lard, Making Lye Soap, Making Cottage Cheese

Rendering lard and making lye soap are among the useful tasks homesteaders and small farmers can learn from this article.

| November/December 1973

  • homemade soap - fotolia
    A big iron kettle could be a big help when making lye soap.

  • homemade soap - fotolia

Here in northern Minnesota, you'll often see an old farmstead (maybe still lacking electricity) with a couple head of livestock, a barrel stove in the living room, and a range in the kitchen. Wood (for fuel) is heaped high in boxes on the back porch... alongside the slop pail and the wash stand with its enamel basin and cold water. You can wear your boots indoors in these three-roomed rural homes—the furniture is there for comfort, not for decor—and you always feel welcome.

The residents of such a farm aren't back-to-the-landers... some have chosen this way of life because unemployment is common around here in the winter months, and others have lived like this so long that they know no other way.

The average farm gal in our neighborhood has smelled new-mown hay, seen deer come into a clearing at dusk, and watched a fox hunt for mice just before dawn. She's capable of making lye soap and also knows how to operate any type of farm equipment, can food, milk several head of cattle twice a day, help deliver and feed calves each spring, sew her own clothes, work side by side with her husband, and crank out home-baked goods and rib-sticking food daily. On top of that, she often holds down an outside job... and is still attractive, fun, and pleasant to be with.

Naturally, personalities vary as much in farm women as in any other walk of life, but the local girls do have one thing in common: They're taught "how to do it" from the time they can talk, and are given their share of chores. Now more and more of these young people, after working ten years in the city, are quietly reviving that knowledge and returning to the land.

Among the local residents there are also many lonely elderly people whose own children have turned their backs on the farm. They gratefully welcome your company and are eager to tell you how they do things, what shortcuts to take, what problems to watch out for, and how to save money. Then they serve a wonderful meal and ask how soon you can come again.

Our farm neighbors, young and old, are experts in rural "making do" and have many hints to offer the newcomer. That slop pail on the back porch, for instance, isn't there for soapy water. (If the term "slop pail" offends you, call it a hog bucket.) In the morning, after the cottage cheese has been made, the whey goes into the pail. When dinner is prepared the potato water is added too, along with the cooked peelings. Those leavings are then added to a milk substitute if your pig is young, or to mash if it's mature.

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