Crown Soap, Ben Franklin’s Family Recipe

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In honor of Ken Burns’s Benjamin Franklin two-part series that airs next month, I will be experimenting with variations for Crown Soap. I have leftover Bayberry wax from candlemaking and now have a new order of lovely granules to use as well.

Ben’s father, Josiah Franklin, was a Chandler and soap boiler. (Both used tallow.). Ben’s older brother John perfected the family recipe, which was later made by his youngest sister Jane. The basic recipe for the boiled soap was one part Bayberry wax to two parts tallow. I believe the term tallow at the time was applied to any type of animal fat, including lard. The tricky part, The art, was knowing how to create the right strength of lye water from hardwood ashes and how much salt to add to create a bar that was hard but didn’t crumble. If you are interested in history and how women and trade workers contributed to the development of science, check out the following link:
Science on Tap - Sudsy Science: Making Soap with the Franklin Family | American Philosophical Society (I highly recommend watching this historic presentation on soap making in the 1700s! Slides contain information that I cannot find anywhere else online.)

Back in August, not knowing any better, I took the thread on brine soap sideways because boiled soap made with brine contains salt in the finished product. The conversation was supposed to focus on soleseife soap, but I was fascinated by the idea of using some of my bayberry wax and trying the boiled/salted soap made by Ben’s sister Jane Mecome and his sister-in-law called Crown Soap. The final soap turned out to be quite hard, but it works just fine. Lots of information and pictures in the thread on brine soap. (Yes, my Crown Soap tastes salty!)

I used sodium hydroxide in the recipe I made in August. One of these days I will try out the recipe after making lye water from hardwood ashes.
Wood ash lye | Soapy Stuff (Fantastic resource from @DeeAnna’s website on wood ashes, lye, and soap. The in progress section on how to leach lye water from hardwood ashes can be found via a Google search.)

For now, however, I would like to try something that the Franklin family could only dream of, which is creating a cold process version of Crown Soap with my myrtle wax and tallow. God bless the convenience of sodium hydroxide in a can! Another plus not possible for Franklin’s Crown Soap is the retention of glycerin. And Ben wanted his sister to make the soap a darker green, which ruined it when she added extra Bayberry wax. If only she had known the right plant infusions to use or had mica powder!

Inquiring minds who want to go down the rabbit hole (I’m looking at you @ResolvableOwl), check out this link on properties of bayberry wax. For those of us who are more simple minded, like me, it’s enough to calculate the SAP for the recipe. FNWL, The supplier of my most recent Bayberry wax, posts this information:
Saponification Value (mg KOH/g oil): 188 - 225. SAP Multiplier for NaOH: 0.148. I believe I have seen some other numbers online as well as in this forum.

The science article above lists the fatty acid profile for Bayberry wax as 85% palmitate, 14% myristate, 1% stearate. I may consider tweaking my final recipe for trial based on balancing fatty acid profiles.

Any ideas on how I might proceed?
 

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Hermit

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You might have to try small batches of different ratios of Bayberry wax to lard to find where the sweet spot is. I put palmitic, myristic, and stearic acid into the lye calc as additives in the ratio that they appear in Bayberry wax, and then added more and more lard into the mix (until the recipe properties graph stopped looking angry😡!)
IMG_20220303_165511755.jpg


I was able to figure out how to fudge the #’s to show what a 50/50% ratio of Bayberry wax to lard would look like by averaging the amount of palmitic acid between the two ingredients and adding lard to hit that average:
IMG_20220303_170611349.jpg



IMG_20220303_170600862_HDR.jpg

Adding castor oil would probably be a good idea... The insane fish on Finding Nemo would not approve of the "bubbly" level😜.

Maybe a starting point would be: one batch of 90% lard and another of 80% with 5% Castor in both?

I would have to do waaaay more research to figure out how to manually calculate lye... and I should actually be doing my taxes right now😏.
 
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The first batch didn’t have any scent to speak of, but the Bayberry wax was 20 years old. There are lots of pictures in the Brine Soap Thread. I think I copied the link to the thread correctly this time.
Cross section of Crown Soap loaf:
E3419950-37D9-4B15-A3E5-EE905034F3B3.jpeg

The loaf is upside down, and on the right side you can see the difference in texture because I ended up with foamy bubbles through the surface. Not sure why.
Here is a finished bar that shows the bubbles and some unusual crystals that formed on one bar before I planed it.
46233C81-C2DC-4670-AD1B-2AF2B9F81D6F.jpeg

1E9F8731-1FC2-496E-9768-F18F067F5668.jpeg

Because the bars are so hard, they need a little extra time in warm water to start working well. The first time I wash my hands, I don’t get much soap action. If I go back a little later, like when I’m working in the kitchen, the water has had a chance to do its work by softening the surface and the soap works great!
 
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Adding castor oil would probably be a good idea... The insane fish on Finding Nemo would not approve of the "bubbly" level😜.
11A4583E-799F-4C9D-8595-FE83692F0454.jpeg

🤣🤣🤣🤣
Yes, the recipe needs to be tweaked to get those bubbles along with cleansing properties. I’ll have to go check out the soap calculator to see how other oils might be incorporated. Last night I was trying to find what oils may have been available in Massachusetts in the late 1700s. Since it was part of the trading triangle, They might have had access to oils from west Africa and the Caribbean. Other oils may not have been cost-effective in the 1700s, but I might consider them anyway. After all, Crown Soap was considered a luxury bar. 😉

Olive oil
Castor oil
Coconut oil
Palm oil
Whale oil
Shea butter

I will not be substituting any whale oil in the recipe!!!!! I’m interested in the castor oil, coconut oil, and Shea butter. What do you think? I plan on playing with the sub calculator this evening. Right now I have to run off to a meeting. Glad I could help you procrastinate working on taxes last night! 😁
 
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85% palmitate, 14% myristate, 1% stearate.
That smells so strongly like Japan wax! 😃 (80% palmitate, 1% myristate, 7% stearate). Weren't there the SAP
Multiplier for NaOH: 0.148.
which is a bit higher for Japan wax (0.153), which I find remarkable, since Japan wax actually has more long-chain (stearic) and less mid-chain (myristic) FAs, hence should have the lower SAP. It sounds as if there are some unsaponifiables in the bayberry wax. I'll have a peek into the paper you've linked.

Last night I was trying to find what oils may have been available in Massachusetts in the late 1700s.
[…]
I will not be substituting any whale oil in the recipe!!!!! I’m interested in the castor oil, coconut oil, and Shea butter. What do you think?
I somehow missed why you aren't talking any more about tallow (pig/beef fat).

With myrtle wax as a very hard oil, there is a natural need for soft oils. Lard or shea butter do to some limited degree count as soft oils. Castor is fine but you would need just a few % of it. Just for the rabbit hole's sake: what about beechnut/acorn/chestnut/hazelnut/pecan oil? Sunflowers are native to temperate North America too.

From the soapmaking perspective: Shea butter has some appeal, because it strongly pulls the recipe from palmitic-heavy to a more balanced P/S ratio.

cold process version of Crown Soap with my myrtle wax and tallow
Don't underestimate the tendency of highly saturated fats for false trace. Japan wax and ucuuba butter, arguably the closest relatives to myrtle wax in terms of melting behaviour, are notorious for solidifying below some 40°C, and so is (beef) tallow to some degree.
Just to be sure we talk about the same when it comes to “cold” process. ;)

God bless the convenience of sodium hydroxide in a can!
Yes! But don't deprive yourself of the filthy pleasure of lye extraction from wood ash 😁. One thing I'm toying with (and this is possibly a good option for you too) is a dual-lye masterbatch with 5–10% of KOH, with the twist that the KOH comes from wood ash (you might use commercial KOH though).
For me, the idea is appealing to have made a small part of the making of hydroxide, despite it is generally deemed “impossible for DIYers”. It also has other advantages – if you go with a recipe of the type (hardness numbers) that @Hermit has proposed, KOH will help you make less rock hard, and more soluble/bubbly. Actually, this might make a decent shave soap too, a realm where KOH and dual-lye escapades are much more common than in regular bar soaps.
 
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Sorry for the delayed post. I had my daughter home for a week.
I somehow missed why you aren't talking any more about tallow (pig/beef fat).

Did you wanna talk about pig and beef fat @ResolvableOwl? Actually, I think “tallow” in soap making referred to any type of rendered animal fat, so it could be deer, rabbit, goat, elk, etc. Maybe poultry such as duck or chicken may also have been considered tallow??? Don’t really know about that, but if I had fat from birds accumulating, I would have considered using it.

Yes! I forgot all about all of the nut oils! Oh for a second I thought about going out and collecting acorns and beech nuts from some squirrel stash, but I wouldn’t want to deprive them. It turns out I could order acorn oil online, but wouldn’t know the SAP. I could try walnut oil since I can get it at the grocery store. Japan wax…I will have to check it out.

I don’t have KOH. I suppose I will order some because I don’t have enough soap supplies in the house as it is. 😜
 
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Moved to The Oort Cloud...
Actually, I think “tallow” in soap making referred to any type of rendered animal fat, so it could be deer, rabbit, goat, elk, etc. Maybe poultry such as duck or chicken may also have been considered tallow??? Don’t really know about that, but if I had fat from birds accumulating, I would have considered using it.
Definition of tallow: the white nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants.

Pig fat is referred to as LARD.
 
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Definition of tallow: the white nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants.

Pig fat is referred to as LARD.
Yes, I do know that. 😉 I was referring to historic colonial soap making, when tallow *may* have had a broader common definition. Some years back I recall a program talking about soap makers long ago reclaiming animal fats from animals that had died in the street. I didn’t want to go into detail about what animals they might find at that time because it would gross people out. Today our local animal control officer fulfills that function of removing roadkill. The program said that historically the animals would be rendered for their fat to make soap. Yuck! Apparently some soapers didn’t smell very good back then! 🤣
 
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Have you read Book of Ages: The life and opinion of Jane Franklin? It is a good nonfiction book with letters between Jane and Ben as well as comparison of Ben's biography to Janes Bible with births and deaths of children and family.

There are definite references to making the soap. My memory is that I thought the soap was green in color and I also thought salt was quite high, but they may have just been my impression.
 
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Could it be "fatty bloom"? I've come across a blog post and an Instagram post recently which suggested the term, it's the first time I hear it but it looks similar to the feathery crystals in your photo.
Never heard of fatty bloom before. Interesting! The feathery crystals built up to a half inch high looking more like cotton candy than the pictures of fatty bloom. Now I will have to go look at other pictures to see if I can find anything that matches. Thank you for handing me a new scavenger hunt, @melonpan!

Have you read Book of Ages: The life and opinion of Jane Franklin? It is a good nonfiction book with letters between Jane and Ben as well as comparison of Ben's biography to Janes Bible with births and deaths of children and family.

There are definite references to making the soap. My memory is that I thought the soap was green in color and I also thought salt was quite high, but they may have just been my impression.
I haven’t read the book, @lucycat, but I’ve seen transcripts of it online. You are correct that the soap had a greenish cast, according to what I read, and when Ben asked Jane to make the soap more green, it was a soap fail that was brittle and crumbled. I assume that’s because it then contained too much myrtle wax. It also contained a high amount of salt, which was part of the art of Jane’s soapmaking. She had to get enough to make the soap hard, but not so much that it became brittle. She comments on both in some of the letters she wrote. Thank you for bringing these up!

AD93FF4B-5E3F-4E15-A0C6-557A53B6837B.jpeg
Today I went to the store to pick up high oleic sunflower oil to include in the formulation. To my surprise I found something unusual and wonderful at Whole Foods: rendered duck fat!!!
Jane could certainly have used duck fat to change the properties of her soap. It was pricey, but I bought it anyway and I’m glad I did. It has an interesting fatty acid profile.
Duck fat according to SMF calculator:
44% Oleic
26% Palmitic
13% Linoleic
9% Stearic
1% Linolenic
1% Myristic

The calculator showed it would be a perfect bar of soap if used together with a small percentage of coconut oil to add Lauric and additional Myristic acid for cleansing and bubbles, But that would become a completely different project from the crown soap. 🙂 Maybe I’ll try it later if I can find an inexpensive source of rendered duck fat.

I tried to post the graphs from the calculator, but haven’t figured out how to do it. 🙁
 
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... Some years back I recall a program talking about soap makers long ago reclaiming animal fats from animals that had died in the street. I didn’t want to go into detail about what animals they might find at that time because it would gross people out. Today our local animal control officer fulfills that function of removing roadkill. The program said that historically the animals would be rendered for their fat to make soap. Yuck! Apparently some soapers didn’t smell very good back then! 🤣
I kinda fail to see the humor of this considering I'm sure many people from my former tribe did this as did my great-great and great grandmothers.
 
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I kinda fail to see the humor of this considering I'm sure many people from my former tribe did this as did my great-great and great grandmothers.
Sorry for the misunderstanding. The program I watched profiled the profession of men who cleaned up rotting carcasses to render for fat and commented about the smell. When I wrote that I was laughing at myself, thinking of the groundhog hit in front of my house and the raccoon I’d just found dead in my backyard, and that I missed out on the opportunity to experiment with other animal fats. Humor is a personal thing and frequently a mismatch that doesn’t connect with others. I meant no offense.
 

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