Victorian Farm is back for a short run of Christmas specials, which I'm pretty happy about. The episodes are as interesting as ever (for example, I now know the origin of the phrase 'grinding to a halt'), but one thing really made me laugh. A few days before, I had caught a bit of Kirstie Allsopp's Homemade Christmas, where she was making soap. Soap making at home basically involves water, caustic soda and a fat, and caustic soda is pretty nasty stuff, as the name suggests. Consequently, they took great precautions when mixing the ingredients, wearing long rubber gloves and safety specs. The end result looked lovely: little dainty soaps scented with herbs and essential oils and decorated with rosebuds.
Soap making on the Victorian farm was a rather different matter. Ruth heated the water in her huge washing copper, adding a large chunk of rather old and manky looking fatty meat to provide the fat required: no airy fairy coconut oil there. She then added the caustic soda carefully, but without either rubber gloves or safety specs for the sake of authenticity — health and safety be damned! And was the end result a dainty rose-scented block? In a word, no. Rather than leaving the soap to cure and dry for 6 weeks to remove all traces of caustic soda, she scooped a bit out immediately and showed that it was ideal for scrubbing out chamber pots. Let no-one say that the average Victorian lived a glamourous life.