A road trip this week for Essie and grandma as they stopped to visit Ann Marie Craig at Century Farmhouse Soaps, 136 S. Main Street, West Bend.
Donning aprons, it was going to be a team effort as Essie and Grandma had their hearts set on designing a signature soap for Barton. The community recently acquired an Old Town Barton bourbon that was available at Joker’s 5 Bar & Grill and the ‘Straight Outta Barton’ t-shirts were becoming a hot commodity.
Now a hand-made soap would be checked off the bucket list.
“It has to have purpose and be pleasant,” said grandma, sounding all official.
Ann Marie nodded as she sorted through a cabinet of scents and essential oils; bottles of lavender and peppermint were plucked from the shelf and set aside.
“This will be totally different than my other soaps,” said Ann Marie. “The others are either soybean, coconut or olive oil and raw unprocessed bees wax but the fancy soaps use palm oil, coconut oil and rain water.”
Grandma scrunched her nose a bit, almost as if she was going to test the teacher.
Ann Marie beat her to the punch. “I know this might seem a little newfangled as a truly old-fashioned recipe would have been my grandmother’s soap which was made entirely with chicken fat,” she said.
Essie breathed a sigh of relief. She had some concerns and thought she’d have to tell grandma to put her personality in her pocket but it appeared Ann Marie knew how to handle her.
For the past 15 years Ann Marie has been making soap. Inspired by her grandmother she decided to give it a go in 1999.
“I’m basically self taught,” said Ann Marie. “I was only allowed to watch my grandmother make soap from a distance as she was concerned about the lye. But making soap was something I always wanted to do.”
Ann Marie was 18 years old when her grandmother died; she didn’t start making soap until she was 40.
“I went to the library and kept taking out books,” she said.
Ann Marie’s first life started with a career as a nurse working in orthopedics, medical surgery and as a director of a nursing home in Fond du Lac. A move to Montana opened a door to school nursing which led to more education and another college degree in elementary education.
Essie could easily see the teacher come into play as not only were they making soap, Ann Marie was giving them a step-by-step primer on the science behind the process.
“When I told my father I was going to make soap, he handed me a $20 bill and told me to go buy some,” said Ann Marie in an article published in 2008 in Country Living magazine.
During the morning session the sun lit up the studio in the back of the store. Ann Marie carried on an easy going, casual conversation as she measured and poured liquids and lye into large dark pots.
Essie and grandma sat to the side as they spent the last 10 minutes dodging rather than dancing in the small studio space and felt it best to stay out of Ann Marie’s way. “We’re a little cozy back here,” said Ann Marie cheerfully. “But this is going to be fun.”
Stirring the contents with a wooden spoon Ann Marie talked about the visual changes they’d see as Essie and grandma watched the science of soap morphing before their eyes. “The consistency goes from chicken gravy to lemon meringue pie to banana pudding,” said Ann Marie.
Adding some essential oils, Ann Marie asked if they wanted to take a whiff. Grandma jumped at the opportunity and used her hand to waft some of the aroma her way. The lines in her face gave way to a smile. Her German accent came through as she confirmed her satisfaction with a strong, “Gut!”
Essie leaned over. “Don’t get too close,” said Grandma. “You’ll melt your nose.”
Essie looked up and gave grandma the stink eye. She appreciated her humor not at all.
Once the soap thickened Ann Marie hefted the weighty pot and poured the contents into the mold. It would be several days before they could cut it and the naming and packaging is still in the works.
Soap-making insights from Ann Marie:
-“I love the creative process; that I enjoy the most and the interaction with people.”
-all soap continues to dehydrate over time
-it takes 3 weeks for soaps to cure.
-When Ann Marie was making soap out of her home she was selling it “nationwide and in a few school gymnasium Christmas sales.” Her big break came in 2006 with the Country Living Fair at the Chicago Botanical Garden. “I was selected a woman entrepreneur in 2008 and then it really took off.”
-Century Farmhouse Soaps ships orders to Australia, South America, Asia, and across the U.S.
-Some of the higher profile clients who use Century Farmhouse Soaps include Nancy Fuller – host of the Food Network show “Farmhouse Rules,” country music recording artist Cooper Boone, the Fabulous Beekman Boys, and Emmy-winning show host John McGivern.
Century Farmhouse Soap is located:
136 South Main Street
West Bend, WI 53095
E: [email protected]
Tues, Wed, Fri – 10am – 5pm
Thurs – 10am – 6pm
Sat – 9am – 4pm
Also Saturday June through October:
West Bend Farmers’ Market, corner of Mill & Main in downtown West Bend
Sun & Mon – Closed
Get ‘um while they’re hot!
The Straight Outta Barton t-shirts are exclusively on sale at Over the Moon, 1710 Barton Avenue. The shirts are $20 and a portion of the money goes to help promote Barton businesses.
Build. Boost & Buy in Barton – – Shop these local businesses
Wisconsin House Woodworks
Reflections by the River
Lake Lenwood Beach and Campground
Do Your Hair Justice
Play’n for Pennies – Resale and Consignment
Sandy’s Barton Cafe
St. Mary’s Parish
The Sign Shop of West Bend, 1624 Schmidt Road All exterior signage including Banners, Yard Signs, Sandblasted, Illuminated and Monument.
Interior signage including, Engraved, Way finding, and Room Identification Decals include: Corporate branding, Security, Serialized, Safety/Warning/ OEM decals, and Control Panels.
Vehicles graphics for Corporate, City, and County fleets, Recreational and Personal Vehicles, and also Window Decals identifying business name, and hours of operation.
Vrana Frame & Body Shop
West Bend Glass Block, 1527 N. Main Street
Woodland Iron & Firearms