Archive for the ‘Primitive Crafts & Country Style’ Category

Wooden Spoons


These are a few of my favorite things.

There are five wooden spoons in this set given to me by my mother. They hang on a wall rack with a rolling pin. This spoon rack hung in my mother’s kitchen as long as I can remember. Four of the spoons have writing on the back to say whose spoon was whose, and dates when the spoons were known to be used by them.

Norma Prescott Dye–my mother. Katie Woodall Prescott–my grandmother. Jessie Massengale Woodall–my great-grandmother. Katie Massengale–my great-great-grandmother.

The fifth spoon in the set has no writing on the back and I’m not sure if it was anything special or just another one of my mother’s.

I don’t use these particular wooden spoons–they’re old, and among my most prized possessions. But I do love and use wooden spoons. Do you?

Wooden spoons are simple items, so their easy-to-carve yet extremely useful nature means they appear far back in history all over the planet. In America, we tend to think of them as something that reminds us of our grandmothers–yet they are still imminently practical today, so set aside your stainless steel and silicone for a moment and consider all the ways a wooden spoon is better and why you should use one!

1. It doesn’t heat up as quickly as other materials, which means you don’t need a plastic safety handle or an oven mitt to use them over a hot pot.

2. It doesn’t chemically react with acidic ingredients–or melt or leach strange chemicals into food as plastic utensils can.

3. It won’t scratch pots and pans and bowls–it’s especially perfect for removing air bubbles in glass canning jars so you don’t risk scratching the glass.

4. It’s perfect as a spatula replacement for folding batters. (The well of a wooden spoon is usually pretty shallow.)

5. It’s pretty, lends a vintage quality to your kitchen counter even if it’s brand new.

What about contamination? Wood is a porous surface, this is true. Spoons used in mixtures containing raw meat can be sanitized in a dishwasher, or with a strong sanitizing cleaning product in your kitchen sink. Is it okay to put wooden spoons in the dishwasher? It would be better not to, but if dishwasher high heat sanitizing is the only thing standing between you and your wooden spoons, do it. I wouldn’t put my genuine vintage 100-year-old wooden spoons in a dishwasher (NO!), but new good-quality spoons will stand up to it–just be sure to properly oil them afterwards because repeat washing, especially with high heat or strong sanitizing, will eventually dry your spoons out, causing them to crack and degrade before their time.

Need a good spoon oil recipe? I’ve got one!

Spoon Oil:

16 ounces mineral oil
4 ounces beeswax, cut in chunks

Warm the mineral oil by placing the container in a pot of warm water. Place beeswax in a wide-mouth jar and melt in a double boiler. Remove from heat and slowly pour the mineral oil into the melted beeswax.

I keep my spoon oil in a quart jar. It solidifies when cool, so you have to heat it up for each use. I use a simple makeshift double boiler using a small pot with some canning rings inside to hold the jar.

Once it’s melted, place the jar (still in the pot to keep it warm) on a towel or pot holder near where you will be using it. To use, just stick the spoon in there, one end at a time, remove and rub with a cloth or paper towel, smoothing the oil up the wood where you can’t reach when you stick it in there. Rub it in well. It makes a huge difference.

If you have something you can’t dip into the spoon oil because it won’t fit in the jar, you can spoon some out onto your cloth and rub it in a little at a time to whatever you are restoring. Spoon oil starts solidifying quickly once removed from the warm jar, but it is soft enough to rub in. (If there is some writing, such as on my spoons, be sure you do a test area first. I have no trouble with it making the ink run in the writing on my spoons.)

See how good that looks? Spoon oil isn’t just for wooden spoons on display, though. Use it on your regular kitchen daily-use wooden spoons. Who knows who may want to jot your name down on the back of them and hang them on the wall in 100 years. Keep them in good shape!

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Old Town Blue


A few months ago I got an entire new set of Old Town Blue Corelle, serving dishes and all. I absolutely fell in love with the pattern. Someone mentioned recognizing the dishes in another post, so I wanted to highlight them here. Old Town Blue is actually a retro pattern brought back to stores new now, though you can often find them in vintage stores and flea markets, too, if you have the patience to put a set together piece by piece!

From what I can dig up, it was first produced in 1972. They later produced another similar pattern called Blue Onion, and more recently True Blue, but nothing is the same as Old Town Blue, so they brought it back. The popularity of the pattern can be seen in its collectible fashion–check out the 63 Best Images of Old Town Blue and Blue Onion on Pinterest, for an example. I see some pieces there I don’t have…. I want that butter dish!

I didn’t care for Corelle much for many years. I didn’t grow up with any Corelle. My mother loved her fine dishes. She had a (gorgeous) set of Franciscan Apple dishes for daily use, and several sets of fancy china. I never cared for china–too fancy for me!–and never cared for Corelle–perhaps because I was brought up in the atmosphere that one always set the table, even with small children, with “nice” dishes. You didn’t worry about the children breaking the dishes. Heavens, no. The children were well-behaved. OF COURSE.

But then I did get some Corelle dishes when my kids were little. Because they weren’t well-behaved and for some reason I didn’t even particularly expect them to Not break the dishes. (Hmmm.) I considered them throwaway dishes. (They were the more plain jane Cafe Blue Corelle.)

When I decided to get some new dishes recently (I had distributed out some of my other dishes to my now grown-up children), I had a craving for Corelle, and it absolutely had to be Old Town Blue. I can’t even explain why, but it just called to me. Got any Corelle? Favorite patterns? Are you a fan? And are they your “throwaway” dishes the kids can’t break, or your “real” ones?

P.S. In the photo above, I’m experimenting with “frosting inside” mini cakes. That’s some apple spice cake with vanilla frosting. It was delicious.

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Easy Homemade Lotion Recipe


I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this lotion lately, so I decided to just post the recipe! For years, I’ve taught this recipe in all-day soapmaking classes (not that it’s a soap–it was a beauty add-on product we’d do at the end of the day) and I’ve also sold it, both in the studio and on Etsy. I’m doing neither anymore (and I’ll explain later in the post why I’m not selling it anymore), but first I want to credit the smart, generous lady who gave me the recipe to begin with, years ago–CindyP.

Many of you will remember the fabulous CindyP, who helped me learn how to make soap and partnered with me in so many learning adventures, including my very first workshop retreats back when they were held at Camp Sheppard. (What a lifetime ago that all seems like now! And so much fun.) Like me, and probably a lot of you, too, CindyP’s life has changed and grown in different ways and paths since then. Cindy is busy managing an addiction center and is doing great! Helping people as usual.

She used to have this recipe posted on her own website, but she’s not blogging anymore and gave me permission to post it here, so back to lotion. This is the basic lotion recipe as CindyP shared it with me years ago–I added aloe vera to the recipe later. (It’s optional–if you don’t want it, don’t add it.) It’s a light, non-greasy, moisturizing lotion that is safe to use on your face as well as your body. We’ll start with the basic recipe then how to incorporate aloe vera or other things to personalize it to your needs.

All of the ingredients are easy to find. Emulsifying wax thickens the lotion and holds the oil and water together. Use emulsifying wax pastilles like this for quick melting. Glycerin comes in a solid and liquid form–be sure to use liquid glycerin for this recipe. The olive oil can be any kind, but I always use a light extra virgin.

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How to Make Easy Homemade Lotion:

1 ounce emulsifying wax
6 ounces olive oil
2 ounces liquid glycerin
12 ounces water

Heat the emulsifying wax, olive oil, and glycerin on low until wax is melted–this will only take a few minutes. Cool to 110-120 degrees. Combine with the water and blend until lotion-like–I use a stick blender, but you can also use a regular kitchen mixer. The lotion thickens further as it cools. Makes approximately 24 ounces.

Note: This is hard to make on a hot day! I can’t tell you how many hot summer days in the studio I watched attendees struggle to bring their lotion together. I learned over time that the best thing to do was refrigerate their bowls of lotion when that happened. Chilling the lotion brings it together and thickens it quicker. We’d chill the lotion, move on to another project, then come back to the lotion a little later and they could finish it quickly and easily.

Adding aloe vera: To add aloe vera, use a pure aloe vera liquid, not an oil, which is an extract in a carrier oil and not pure aloe vera. (It’s mostly carrier oil.) You can add the aloe vera two ways.

1. Add several drops of aloe vera after the lotion is made and just stir it in.

2. Replace part of the water with several ounces of aloe vera and incorporate it from the beginning.

I’ve done it both ways–it really depends on how much aloe vera you’re putting in there. If you’re only adding it by drops, it’s just as well to add it at the end. If you’re going to add quite a bit, as in several ounces, it’s best to replace part of the water with the aloe vera liquid at the time you blend the mixture with water. How much aloe vera to include? Though we usually did it by drops at the end in workshops, for the lotions I sold, I would add several ounces and incorporate it as a replacement for part of the water. (Adding several ounces at the end can upset the balance of your lotion.)

A few drops or several ounces? Up to you!

If you have an aloe vera plant, you can also add it directly from the plant by extracting a leaf and squeezing the aloe vera liquid from it. This is the hard method, by the way. (I have an aloe vera plant and used to do it that way, but squeezing out enough aloe vera to put on a cut on your finger and squeezing out enough aloe vera to add to a bowl of lotion are vastly different things….)

What about other stuff? Liquid vitamin E! This is great to add in also, along with just about anything you can think of that may suit a personal need or desire of your own. You can add fragrance or essential oils–several drops at the end–as well, but—-

Caution! Fragrance and essential oils can irritate sensitive skin, and even not so sensitive skin. I never sold this lotion scented, and didn’t usually let people scent it in workshops either. Sometimes attendees would request to scent it, and I would only allow them to add fragrance after their group had completed the lotion and divided it amongst themselves. Then I would allow them to scent their individual take-home container if they wanted. I don’t consider my own skin to be sensitive, yet even I would find fragrance irritating when added to lotion, so be careful. If you want to try it scented, separate a small amount from your batch, add a drop of your chosen fragrance or essential oil, and test it on your skin before scenting the whole batch.

Why did I stop selling it? This is a preservative-free product. When I was still doing workshops and selling it in the studio (I only taught the recipe in all-day soapmaking workshops) and also had started selling it on Etsy, I could go through quite a bit of it in a short time. Now that I’m not selling directly out of the studio anymore, I can’t go through as much lotion as quickly as I did before. Even kept refrigerated, the lotion will go rancid after a few months. This is why I always sold it in small 4-ounce jars that people could use relatively quickly, and always recommended keeping it refrigerated or in a cool place. Since I can’t sell as much lotion as quickly as I used to when I was selling out of the studio also, I just quit selling it because I would have waste–I’d have to throw out whatever didn’t sell in a short period of time. For this reason also I suggest you don’t double or triple the recipe thinking a large batch would be more efficient. Unless you are a heavy duty lotion user, a large batch could lead to waste.

Can you add preservatives to your homemade lotion? Sure! I just didn’t want to do it. I prefer a natural product, and there is no natural preservative that will extend the shelf life of homemade lotion to the same extent as you’ll find in commercial products anyway. To me, hand-crafting a natural, preservative-free product is a main point in making it at all. If you want to add a preservative to your lotion, you’ll have to research elsewhere for that information. My recommendation is to make small batches that you can use in a short time period, divide it into small jars and keep currently unused jars refrigerated, always keep your current jar in a cool place in your home, and don’t touch it directly in the jar. No matter how much you wash your hands, you still run the risk of contaminating the jar by dipping your fingers directly into it. Use a popsicle stick or small spoon to dip in your jar. I always provided a tiny beauty spatula with each jar when I sold it. (Look again at the photo at the top of the post and you’ll see them beside the jars.)

Enjoy your home lotion-making! I hope it opens a world of new possibilities to you. I also made a version of this with cocoa butter and shea butter. I can post this recipe at another time if anyone’s interested?

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2017 Workshops at the Farm



Come learn at the farm!

Discover the Sassafras Farm experience.
All workshops take place at Sassafras Farm– home of Chickens in the Road–located in the beautiful Appalachian foothills of Roane County, West Virginia, approximately 30 minutes north of Charleston, WV. Workshops start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m. Price includes lunch, all supplies and instruction, and take-homes: $75 per person.

See 2017 workshop schedule and information below, choose your workshop and date, and sign up for your adventure! Directions and other information will be emailed to attendees closer to the time of the workshop. If you have questions or need other information, feel free to email me! Workshops also make great gifts!

TO SIGN UP: Email me at to sign up by mail OR sign up online using a credit or debit card or Paypal on Etsy! To register via Etsy, go here: Sign up on Etsy.

2017 workshops currently OPEN FOR REGISTRATION–If a workshop is listed, there are available spots. Workshops that are filled are already removed from the list.

Taste of Sassafras Farm Workshops

IMG_2139All the fun that can be packed into one day! It is a true “taste of Sassafras Farm” touring you through my most popular workshops all in one day. Milk the cow, hands-on, and learn about managing a home dairy, make mozzarella cheese, grind grain and bake rustic-style bread, and whip up a batch of hot process soap. Yes, you’ll really do all of that in one day–and take it home along with some great memories! Take-homes include your soap and bread. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. One-day workshop. Lunch is included. Price: $75.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Saturday, October 14, 2017

Spaces are limited! Sign up to hold yours! Email to sign up by mail, or go here to register online via Etsy.


Soap Making Workshops

varietypackLearn to make both cold process and hot process bar soap as well as the liquid soap process used for shampoo, body wash, hand and dish soap! In this full day, you will create your own soaps from scratch using natural ingredients and a variety of bases including milk, water, tea, and beer as you learn the chemistry of soap, how to use additives, what is superfatting, and how to develop safe personalized recipes using a soap calculator. We’ll also explore ideas and resources for packaging, gifting, and even selling your creations. Take-homes include some of everything! 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Lunch is included. One day workshop. $75.
Saturday, September 23, 2017

Spaces are limited! Sign up to hold yours! Email to sign up by mail, or go here to register online via Etsy.


Hard Cheese Made Easy Workshops

IMG_5757Explore the basic how and why of milk, cultures, rennet, cheese presses (homemade and spring-weighted), as well as resources and education about the basic supplies and equipment to set up a home cheese cave. You will practice hands-on making two hard cheeses–a washed curd cheese and a cheddar–from pot to press along with drying and waxing. Whether you’re thinking of getting your own cow or goat, or just want to experience the whole process from barn to kitchen, this workshop is for you. Every attendee will get hands-on practice milking a cow or goat both by hand and by machine and learn to handle fresh milk from filtering to skimming cream. Learn all about handling dairy livestock, breeding, housing, feeding, and managing babies along with maintaining a family dairy, hands on. Leave with hard cheese demystified and the skills to make your own at home. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. One-day workshop. Lunch is included. $75.
Saturday, October 21, 2017

Spaces are limited! Sign up to hold yours! Email to sign up by mail, or go here to register online via Etsy.


Home Artisan Soft Cheese Workshops

DSC_3033Master simple but artisan soft cheeses at home! You will practice hands-on making a number of soft and semi-soft cheeses including sour cream, yogurt, ricotta, feta, along with herbed and aged soft cheeses. Whether you’re thinking of getting your own cow or goat, or just want to experience the whole process from barn to kitchen, this workshop is for you. Every attendee will get hands-on practice milking by hand and by machine and learn to handle fresh milk from filtering to skimming cream. Explore the basic how and why of milk, cultures, rennet, as well as resources and education about the basic supplies and equipment to make cheese at home. Learn all about handling dairy livestock, breeding, housing, feeding, and managing babies along with maintaining a family dairy, hands on. Leave with soft cheeses demystified and the skills to make your own at home. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. One-day workshop. Lunch is included. $75.
Saturday, September 30, 2017

Spaces are limited! Sign up to hold yours! Email to sign up by mail, or go here to register online via Etsy.

The Sassafras Farm Experience

Learn! Find old-time skills and fresh, new methods with in-person mentorship, in-depth and hands-on, at a real working family farm. Take home fun and functional know-how for self-sufficient living and old-fashioned crafting–and take home what you make, too. Workshop days include lunch from a health department-approved kitchen plus all your instruction, supplies, and take-homes along with an opportunity to milk the cows or goats, visit the chickens, give treats to the animals, and rock on the porch while you watch the calves frolic. All you need to bring is an apron (optional), muck boots (recommended for forays to the barn), and your enthusiasm to learn! Every workshop is HANDS-ON with teacher and milk maid Suzanne McMinn, writer and creator of Chickens in the Road.
Accommodations are not included. See the Suggested Accommodations page.

Kids are welcome. Sassafras Farm workshops are family-friendly events. School-age children and teens may sign up to attend accompanied by a parent/guardian. (Both children/teens and parents must be paid attendees. Please be a good judge of your child’s maturity, behavior, and interest in the subject matter.)

Location: All workshops take place in the Studio at Sassafras Farm in Roane County, WV, about 30 minutes north of Charleston, WV near I-79. Directions to the farm and other information will be provided to attendees in advance of the workshop.

Cost: Cost includes ALL instruction, supplies, lunch and snacks, and take-homes. The price per person per workshop is $75 and must be paid in full in advance, at the time of reservation. If you sign up, please plan to attend. Workshop reservations are nonrefundable. If you can’t attend for some reason, your reservation payment can be applied to another workshop of your choice where there are openings available. (Workshops also make great gifts to friends and family!) And yes, many men attend workshops here!

Sign up! Email me at to sign up by mail OR sign up online using a credit or debit card or Paypal on Etsy! To register via Etsy, go here: Sign up on Etsy.

Looking forward to seeing you at the farm!

Suzanne McMinn


See the “Traveling WV” video of Sassafras Farm at WCHS-TV here!

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A Hand-Crafter’s View of Etsy


The Muffin of the Month Club.

I’ve been wanting to write about my experience with Etsy, but my experience with Etsy keeps me on my feet so many hours a day in the kitchen making pepperoni rolls that I barely have time to write about my experience with Etsy! So who knows when I will post this, but I’m trying. I want this post to be for everyone who has ever thought about selling on Etsy, and for everyone who shops on Etsy. I have SO MUCH IN MY HEAD. Here it is.

I have thought about selling on Etsy for quite some time. I’m not sure how long, at least a year, probably longer. I’ve had many people say to me, “Why don’t you sell on Etsy?” I’ve sold soap and lotions and other things in the studio to workshop attendees for years, and occasionally have sold products directly through my website. The idea of using a seller platform seemed…foreign… But, I thought about it. In March of this year (2016) I made an experiment. I made a very rudimentary shop on Etsy–with no header photo or anything else, I didn’t take the time to fill out any seller information, I was busy with workshops starting for the year–and posted a listing for one soap, with photo. AND TOLD NO ONE. Then I ignored it henceforth because I was busy and wasn’t sure I wanted to sell on Etsy anyway.

In result, I got no sales, no views, nothing. Not that I knew since I didn’t even look in on my Etsy for months and months. I mean, if I’d had a sale, I would have gotten an email notification, but I didn’t get a sale. Or even any views on my barely-existent shop. And it was a bad photo anyway.

When I came back to log in to Etsy again in October (this year, 2016), I still had something to learn from the experience thus far, which was barely an experience, but still. I had listed soap for sale on Etsy and NOTHING HAD HAPPENED. I was feeling slightly more motivated about getting an Etsy shop going, so I examined the situation in light of what I should do going forward. I hadn’t sold a single bar of soap in six months. Was Etsy worthless? Of course, I hadn’t promoted in any way through my website or my Chickens in the Road Facebook, but I knew that if I was to be successful on Etsy, I would need more than my readership. I would need TOTAL STRANGERS to want to buy from me. Thus the six-month experiment of posting one soap and telling no one. If I was to post about it and promote it through my website, the experiment would be false. What I wanted to see was–HOW HARD is it to sell on Etsy, WITHOUT an existing platform of promotion? Well, yeah, it was hard, like as in, NO SALES. Then I decided to go for it, and I’m going to tell you how that went, too. And you know me–I’m going to be very frank.

From that point in early October, to now, mid-December, I’ve had over 18,000 views of my shop, over 350 shop and listing favorites, over 160 sales, and $2500 revenue. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? I need to tell you. Especially for those of you thinking of starting an Etsy shop, but also for an insider view to those of you who shop on Etsy–to understand the Etsy seller and their challenges, and their appreciation of YOU, the Etsy buyer. And, you know, just for you, my dearest readers, to understand my TOTAL EXHAUSTION right now.

Remember that year, when I first moved to Sassafras Farm, and all the pipes froze, and I had no money, and it was like, Kids, be happy we have running water, that is your Christmas present? This year is almost like that, but with running water, and it’s like, Kids, be happy there are a couple leftover cookies after I make this batch I’m shipping, cuz other than that, you can just starve! OR PAY ME BECAUSE I CHARGE FOR FOOD.


Okay, let’s talk about Etsy.

So first off, personally, my big deal was, why should I pay someone else to list my stuff??? I can sell it off the shelf in the studio, or from my website. Let’s go back to the reaching beyond my readership thing. Yes, I know, I have a platform. But NO ONE can survive just on that. I can’t survive just on that to sell workshops, so I already knew that. I’ve been selling workshops for years by promoting and advertising outside my website. The same is true for anything else. I have to stretch beyond my personal reach. Etsy gives me that platform that is beyond my personal platform. And if you don’t have a website with a platform, you need the Etsy platform just as much. If I need it, you need it. My first concern was cost. How much does it cost for me to sell through Etsy? It costs 3% per sale, and 20 cents per listing you publish. It’s not much. It’s worth it. IF you will do more than what I did for the first six months.

Let me talk to the soapmakers for a moment. What I’m going to say is not just based on my initial Etsy experiment with soap, but also on extensive browsing and research on Etsy in homemade soap. Homemade soap is one of the most competitive markets on Etsy. There are so many hand-crafters selling soap on Etsy, it is insane. Thus, the price is downgraded due to competition, and the chances of getting discovered selling soap is very low. I’m not going to tell you that it’s impossible to make a successful business selling soap on Etsy, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve got a tough row to hoe.

Rustic Farmstead Soap.
I decided immediately in October when I came back to Etsy “for real” that soap was going to be an “add-on” item in my shop, not my main focus. I love to make soap, and I make a quality soap, but I didn’t see a reasonable path to making a successful shop based on soap alone. I determined to diversify.

Diversification is not the norm on Etsy. I researched all the avenues of products I was interested in potentially pursuing on Etsy. I found, by vast majority, shops that specialized–in soaps and/or soaps/lotions, fudge and/or fudge/candies, vintage/candles/whatever, bread and other savory items, sweet baked goods, preserves, and so on. Many hand-crafters specialize. Due to the fact that for many years I’ve given workshops and/or written tutorials about so many varied things, I’m a jack of all trades. I took advantage of that to diversify my shop with soaps, fudges, lotions, candles, homemade mixes of all kinds, breads, sweets, anything and everything.

Tip: The more listings you have on Etsy, the easier it is for people to discover you.

Tip: The more diversified you are, the easier it is for people to discover you.

Tip: The more diversified you are, the more multiple item sales you will get.

How much does my personal website/Facebook platform play into it? Etsy provides extensive stats. More of my sales come from direct searches on Etsy (due to my diversification) or through Etsy’s Google shopping than from my website or my Facebook. What I want you to know is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be me.

Now I want to mention my two biggest challenges.

Neither of which is Molasses Cookies.
Pricing: This has been SO hard for me, and I’ve changed prices on various things numerous times as I’ve gone through this, trying to understand my time, my ingredient cost, and what is valid for profit. I underpriced horribly in the beginning, but am more reasonably priced now. I want to give you this example.

The Biscuit of the Month Club. (I created this by request, by the way. Someone messaged me asking for it, so I created it!)
I posted a link to it on Facebook, and a lovely person kindly remarked that he couldn’t believe anyone would pay $300 for biscuits. Okay, first it’s not $300. A 12-month subscription is actually $244.80, and that includes not only the biscuits but also the shipping. (Shipping! Another story.) I sell one dozen basic Southern Biscuits for $10.95, with varying price points over that for numerous biscuit variations, such as Pepperoni & Mozzarella.
Shipping per box of biscuits costs $8.45. (Biscuits are one of my bestselling items. I’ve got this shipping down pat.) I sell the Biscuit of the Month in 3, 6, 9, or 12 month subscriptions. It’s a great gift item. The cost includes the shipping per box for the number of months subscribed, plus the biscuits. The biscuits include the ingredients, the time, and ME. (Can you tell how much this person irritated me? Not much? No? Really?! Yeah. Is my exhaustion showing? There’s nothing like someone telling you that what you’re doing isn’t worth what you’re charging right when you’re dying of exhaustion from doing it.)

What is a hand-crafter worth? Can you buy biscuits–or cookies or fudge or soap or bread of whatever–for less at the grocery store? YES. But you don’t get the hand-crafter. You don’t get the individual batch per order. You don’t get homemade. You don’t get that attention to detail. You don’t get that packaging that makes every order of a dozen biscuits (or whatever) look like a present under the Christmas tree. That is what you get from a hand-crafter on Etsy.

I make every batch of ANYTHING individually. There are no multiple batches. Everything is made to order, and every batch is individual. Everything is customized. And when it’s done, if it’s a fresh-baked good, it’s triple wrapped. I wrap first in Press n Seal. This seals out air. Then I place in a twist-tie bag, then that is placed inside a ziplocked bag. Then it’s tied with a bow with a label. Then I put a personal handwritten thank-you note in the box. Or I put in a printed note on my shop letterhead if it’s a gift and they’ve requested a gift note. To me, the crafting goes all the way from the creation of the product to the packaging, what they see when they take it out of the box. All of the effort to retain freshness in shipping does cost money. Triple wrapping is part of the cost of creating the product that may be shipped anywhere from down the road to Florida or Maine or Seattle.

If you want cheap, go to the grocery store, you are not my customer. They have lots of cheap stuff at the grocery store, go for it. If you want individual attention and quality, go to Etsy. That hand-crafter that you might think charges a couple dollars too much because you can get it cheaper at the store? She is up at 4 am and she doesn’t go to bed till 8 pm when she falls in it–and she did it all with joy, so pay her fairly. AND–most people do, and never complain, I want to say that, too. The wonderful people who have bought from me at my shop GET IT.

Customer Service. Speaking of customers–ohmygod, give them service!!! They are buying from you! I have made mistakes. It’s inevitable. I’ve gotten a few orders wrong, and they won’t be the last. When I get an order wrong, I send them the correct item, asap, at no charge, and often send them something extra. The other day, I had a local order. They paid for shipping. The delivery address was like 10 minutes away. I was on my way to the post office. I found the house. I stopped, and gave the delivery to a sweet little old lady. Then went home and refunded the shipping charge to the buyer.

Speaking of shipping… The automated shipping calculation on Etsy has been a huge challenge for me. I think this is mostly due to the fact that people tend to buy multiple different types of items (due to my diversification) in one order, and the Etsy calculation is often wrong. As soon as I figured out how to refund shipping overages, I started doing it.

How to sell successfully on Etsy? Promote. You don’t need an existing platform like I have, but you do need to promote. I promote through Etsy and Google (through Etsy). Diversify–so important. Don’t depend on one avenue of sales. Let people find you in multiple ways. And be ready to work! Every day is a new day and the orders tell me what I’m doing.

Typical day for me– Get up, start baking. Cooling baked goods. All non-baked goods are already packed and boxed. As soon as baked goods are cooled, they’re triple wrapped and added to the prepped boxes. A soap sample goes in every box, along with a thank-you note or printed gift letter. Boxes are finished and go to the car. Most of the time, I go to my favorite post office in Elkview. Sometimes it takes me two to three trips to get all the boxes in. I love my post office lady. She knows I sell on Etsy and we discuss what’s in each box and when she’s done, she asks me how I did today on being right on shipping, then says, “See you tomorrow!” I go home, whip out my post office receipt and send shipping notifications to everyone who has had orders shipped that day, and refund anyone who gets a shipping overage refund.

I take care of the animals.


Start all over the next morning.

I think this will slack off some after the holidays are over, but not too much–I hope!

Come see me at my Etsy shop! In the past two months, I’ve put up 90 listings. And no, you can’t see that original soap listing anymore. I deleted it. But I hope you learned something from what I’ve learned!

And yes, I’m tired. Is Christmas over yet? I have a list as long as my arm of orders to go out by Monday, and yes, I’m still taking orders through this weekend for Christmas shipping.

Visit my shop! You know you wanna see my $300 biscuits! (ha)

And I finished this post!

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Making Soap with Beer


Since I’ve been making, and selling, soap with beer, I’ve had people ask me how do you do that? It’s definitely a special process from a usual soap, and it’s not a last-minute project. You gotta plan ahead if you want to make beer soap. Gotta have flat beer.

I start with a 12 ounce bottle of beer, pour it into a small saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Then I simmer it for about three minutes. After that, I pour the beer into an open container and place it in the refrigerator for at least one day (uncovered) until using. This process is all about first burning off the alcohol in the simmering, then releasing the carbonation by leaving it sitting in an open container for at least 24 hours. (The reason I place the open container in the refrigerator is because of those little bugs that love yeasty things! We don’t want beer-bug soap, just beer soap!) Releasing the alcohol and carbonation makes the subsequent combination with lye a safe thing to do. You don’t want to mix an alcoholic carbonated liquid with lye.

Of course, you lose some of the beer to the simmering and the evaporation, so don’t expect to have 12 ounces of beer when you’re done. Depending on your recipe, you’ll have to add some amount of water back to add up to the required amount of liquid. You’ll lose about 30-40% of the beer. OR you could use a beer and a half (and drink the other half, if you like beer). OR you could do what I do, which is rather than adding water, I add goat’s milk to make a combination beer and goat’s milk soap.

Will the soap end up smelling like beer? Not really, but they sell ale-scented fragrance oils, so you could try that. I think beer goes great with citrus, so I use orange and patchouli essential oils in mine.

Why use beer in soap at all? Beer adds lather and conditioning to soap.

By the way, you can use this same simmer-evaporation process to make soaps using other types of alcohol, such as wine. Though I think this is a misuse of wine personally. (Ha ha.)

If you want to learn how in person, I have two upcoming all-day soapmaking workshops, November 19 and December 10. (The November 19 date is nearly filled, but I have a number of openings for December 10.) We’ll be making both hot and cold process soaps, including goat’s milk, beer, green tea, and liquid soap, plus homemade aloe vera body lotion, and you’ll learn how to use a soap calculator to create your own recipes. You can find out more about the soapmaking workshops here.

Or, visit my Soap Store if you just want to buy some!

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Hand-Crafted Goat’s Milk Soaps


All products are natural and preservative-free.

Bar SoapsFresh & Creamy
Goat’s milk soaps from Sassafras Farm are made with fresh raw goat milk from our own herd, with all the milk’s benefits of natural, nourishing vitamins, proteins, and alpha hydroxy acids. My soaps are hand-crafted the old-fashioned way, in small batches, using as many organic, locally-sourced, and home-grown ingredients as possible. These are simple, rustic, hand-cut bars, developed from my years of soap-making and soap-teaching experience, that will leave your skin feeling soft and moisturized. Every soap is made with 100% goat’s milk from the farm (no water added) except the beer soap, which is made with a combination of beer and goat’s milk. In addition, all soaps are formulated with the following fats and oils: Cocoa butter, lard, olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. Extra large bars, approximately 5 ounces. Find available soaps and other products below along with ordering details, and for more information, see the Questions section at the bottom of this page.

Note: Plain, fragrance-free goat’s milk soap is available on request.

lavenderoatmeal1Goat’s Milk Lavender & Oatmeal Soap. Made with dried lavender, lavender essential oil, and ground oatmeal for soothing qualities.

coffeepeppGoat’s Milk Peppermint & Coffee Soap. Made with coffee grounds for gentle conditioning, with peppermint essential oil.

beer1Beer Me Babe Goat’s Milk Soap. This is the only one of my soaps that is not made with 100% goat’s milk. It’s made with 60% beer for the sugars and carbs that make added lather, and 40% goat’s milk, with dried orange peel and orange and patchouli essential oils.

lemongrasshoneyGoat’s Milk Lemongrass & Honey Soap. Made with dried lemon peel and the natural healing properties of local raw honey with refreshing lemongrass essential oil.

sugarspiceGoat’s Milk Burnt Sugar & Spice Soap. A burnt sugar fragrance oil blended with orange essential oil scents this soap straight out of the farmhouse kitchen–sugar and spices and fruit.

rosemaryGoat’s Milk Forever Rosemary Soap. Made with dried rosemary from our own gardens and the clean, invigorating scent of rosemary essential oil.

brownsugaroatsGoat’s Milk Brown Sugar & Oats Soap. Smells like the inside of a cookie, sweetened with real brown sugar and a spiced brown sugar fragrance oil blended with the warmth of cedarwood essential oil. Light conditioning with finely ground oats.

sampler4Goat’s Milk Soap Sampler Pack. Enjoy every goat’s milk bar soap variety made at Sassafras Farm! The Soap Sampler Pack includes seven handmade bars, one each of Beer Me Babe, Burnt Sugar & Spice, Lavender & Oatmeal, Lemongrass & Honey, Brown Sugar & Oats, Forever Rosemary, and Peppermint & Coffee. Save 50 cents per bar off the regular individual bar price when buying the sampler pack.

soapcubesGoat’s Milk Soap CubesPerfect for travel or guest bath
Mini blocks of creamy goat’s milk soaps, convenient for use on trips or to create an inviting, country-style display for guests in your home. Soap cubes come in Lavender & Oatmeal, Peppermint & Coffee, Beer Me Babe, Lemongrass & Honey, Forever Rosemary, Burnt Sugar & Spice, or Brown Sugar & Oats. Six cubes per package.

lotion1Aloe Vera LotionLight & Nourishing
My homemade lotion is moisturizing and safe for both face and body. 4 ounce jars. Fragrance free. Made with olive oil, water, glycerin, and aloe vera. Can be shipped with soap orders.

bodybutter1Vitamin E Body ButterRich & Luxurious
My body butter is decadently crafted with cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and Vitamin E. 4 ounce jars. Fragrance free. Can be shipped with soap orders.

$7 per soap bar (1 bar)
$45.50 per Goat’s Milk Soap Sampler Pack (7 bars)
$7 per package soap cubes (6 cubes)
$4 per aloe vera lotion (1 jar)
$9 per body butter (1 jar)

Shipping: Soap and/or soap cube packages can be shipped in padded envelopes by USPS first class mail. For example, I can ship a couple of bars of soap or soap cube packages for about $3 by first class mail. (Body lotions and butters must be shipped by USPS priority mail medium size box ($13.45) and can be combined with soap orders.)

For priority mail (two-day mail) I can ship up to six bars of soap and/or soap cubes for $6.45. If ordering a larger number of soaps or combination items of soap, lotion, and/or body butter, contact me for a shipping quote based on your order. In most cases, the shipping price for larger or combination orders including body butters and lotions will be $13.45 (medium size priority mail box). Stock up and combine items for your best shipping deal! You can also combine items with an order from my Fudge Shop.

One free soap sample comes with each order.

When you contact me with your order, let me know if you want to ship by first class mail or priority mail and I will get back to you with a shipping price specific to your order along with your payment information.

Shipping prices listed are for continental U.S. only. For Canada and other locations, contact me for a shipping quote.

Gift Orders: Soap makes a great gift! If your order is a gift, I can ship your items directly to your recipient with a handwritten note letting them know it is a gift from you. Just let me know when you order.

Contact Suzanne at to place your order!

Payment may be made by check or PayPal. If you wish to use PayPal, please contact me first for my PayPal address and additional information.

Or if you prefer, you can order through my Etsy shop here.

Valentina’s happy face.


Q: Does the milk really come from your own goats?
A: Yes. I milk my Alpine and Lamancha dairy goats every day. You can see me milking my goats here, with video!

Q: Why do hand-crafted beauty products cost so much?
A: Ingredients, man. What we think is soap at the store often isn’t even soap. It’s a synthetic detergent from a manufacturing plant. Real soap is made with lye (sodium hydroxide) and real ingredients, natural and nourishing. And those ingredients don’t come cheap. For example, each bar of hand-crafted Sassafras Farm soap costs over $3 just in ingredients. Add in my time and labor–hours per batch of soap and years of experience developing knowledge–and I think $7 per bar is a fair price for a soap including natural cocoa butter, shea butter, and only premium grade essential oils along with all the other ingredients, in extra-thick cut bars. (If you’re getting hand-crafted soap cheaper, the ingredients are cheaper and the bar is smaller.) It’s a similar equation for the lotion and body butter. My prices are as low as I can go and still justify doing it for love. Regarding shipping, prices are what the post office charges, I can’t help that.

Q: Do you make any vegetarian/vegan soaps?
A: I regularly use lard in all of my soaps. Lard is a hardening agent, and is an historic ingredient in soap for that reason. Non-animal fat hardening agents in soap (such as palm oil) come from non-sustainable practices that are harmful to the environment. Lard comes from pigs that are going to be butchered anyway. They aren’t butchered for soap. The lard is a by-product. Plus, bacon is delicious. I love pigs! See my pigs here.

Q: How should I take care of my soap, lotion, or body butter after it arrives?
A: If your order includes soap, please know that the plastic bag used to enclose your soap is for shipping only. Please remove your soap from its bag on arrival. Soap should always be exposed to air as it needs to breathe. If your order includes homemade lotion or body butter, please remember that these are preservative-free products. You may keep your lotion or body butter at a room temperature of 68-70 degrees for two months. If you will use it more slowly than that, or if you purchased extra lotions or butters, please keep refrigerated until ready to use. Refrigerated lotion or body butter will keep for six months or more.
Q: I want to make my own soap. How can I learn how?
A: Come to a workshop at Sassafras Farm! See all the workshops coming up here.

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Easy Homemade Liquid Soap Shampoo


Whenever I dig in to a major endeavor learning something new, it usually goes like this. First, it’s exciting and intimidating. I study and research whatever it is, then try it out, repeatedly, generally with mixed results. Then I get frustrated and impatient with the learning curve, and try again in fits and spurts. Then I give up for awhile and pout. Eventually, I get over myself and try again, at which point some kind of magic happens and all the experience–albeit frustrating–suddenly starts clicking in my brain, and it’s like the mysterious, anxious clouds part and I understand. My journey into cheesemaking, especially hard cheeses, was like that. I make a lot of hard cheeses now, and the process feels very easy to me anymore. And my cheeses come out great. But it wasn’t always like that. I went through a lot of frustration before I started seeing the light. Liquid soap has been like that for me, too, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people. Try googling homemade liquid soap–there’s not a lot of information out there unless you count tutorials on how to grate bar soap and melt it into liquid soap. When it comes to making liquid soap from scratch using potassium hydroxide, the information pool is pretty small.

I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because, since it’s liquid, it’s more functional than artsy as opposed to hard bar homemade soap. Or maybe also because the best known resource for homemade liquid soap is Making Natural Liquid Soaps by Catherine Failor, in which she presents a very complicated method. I followed that method myself when I started making liquid soap, and I’m not dissing it–it’s a perfectly good method for making liquid soap, but it’s very focused on clear liquid soaps. The way the recipes are formulated and the complicated methodology are all centered on that central concept of clarity. I still recommend the book as a good resource on understanding liquid soap, and I have a lengthy post with recipes for clear liquid soaps here.

But eventually–when I reached the period past initial excitement and intimidation, past study and research, past frustration and impatience and giving up and pouting, and finally started making liquid soaps again, the magic happened, as it usually does, and the clouds parted–I stopped following the Failor method for making liquid soap. I don’t care if my liquid soap is clear. I also started formulating my own recipes (using SoapCalc) because published recipes geared toward clear liquid soaps are too high in coconut oil (which contributes to clarity but makes them drying). And I simplified the whole process based on my years of soaping experience, both with liquid and hard bar soaps. I stopped trying to climb this mystical Mt. Everest of perfect liquid soap according to….who all, I don’t know….and just treated making liquid soap like I was making soap. Because, hello, that’s all it is.

Here’s how I make liquid soap now, and I wanted to share this here because it’s been years (five years!) since I first wrote about liquid soap. Because I don’t have all the time in the world to make every type of soap I use in my home on a daily basis, I mostly make shampoo. It goes on my hair. I’m mostly interested in what goes on or in my body, not so much what goes on my dishes or my laundry, but you can create (or find) recipes for those types of soaps, also. Remember, this liquid soap will not be clear–it will be a clear-ish amber color, and it may not be just right for your hair. It’s just right for mine (which is not dry or oily, just normal), that’s all I can say. It’s a Vitamin E-rich liquid soap with its high wheat germ oil content. I use it both as a shampoo and as a body wash. I like to call it my Rapunzel soap (because I have long hair). How much this recipe makes varies according to your dilution, but it should be between 1 and 2 quarts. I keep it in an olive oil dispenser, but an old shampoo bottle will do just as well.
IMG_8481 copy
*Remember to use potassium hydroxide, the lye for liquid soap, not sodium hydroxide.

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How to make Vitamin E Rapunzel Shampoo & Body Wash:

8 ounces coconut oil
6.5 ounces wheat germ oil
5.5 ounces castor oil
4 ounces olive oil
1 ounce lanolin

4.8 ounces potassium hydroxide
9.5 ounces water

Melt the coconut oil along with the other oils in a large crock pot.

Add the potassium hydroxide to the water (never the other way around! and you should be wearing goggles and gloves). When the lye is dissolved in the water, add the mixture to the oils in the crock pot and stick blend until the mixture reaches trace. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook it till it tests safe using a 1% phenolphthalein solution. Now you have your soap paste, ready to dilute.

Make a borax solution using 3 ounces of borax dissolved in 6 ounces of boiling hot water. The borax solution will aid in dilution. Add to the soap paste (still in the crock pot) along with a couple of cups of water. I’m not going to get detailed about how much water and we’re not going to do any math or consult any dilution tables. Just add water every once in a while and always in small quantities at a time. The goal is to dilute as thickly as possible while still completely diluting. Leave the crock pot on low with the lid on. Check on it periodically, stir it around, add more water if you have to. If it’s bedtime, turn off the crock pot and go to bed. The soap will keep working on itself while you’re sleeping. Next morning, stir it around, see if it’s diluted to your satisfaction. If not, add some more water. I’ve had liquid soap be ready the next morning, and I’ve had batches of liquid soap I’ve left in the crock pot for two weeks! (Mostly because I got busy doing other things and left the pot turned off for days at a time before I got back to paying attention to it. Liquid soap will wait for you.) I don’t rush the dilution phase. I just add a little water at a time, check on it every once in a while, and it’s done when it’s done. I like liquid soap to be about the consistency of molasses, thick but pourable at the same time. In my experience I’ve found that the more slowly and patiently I deal with dilution, the thicker end result I can attain.

When it’s done, I add a couple ounces of sulfated castor oil. Sulfated castor oil is NOT the same thing as regular castor oil. I use it for superfatting. It’s the only oil that won’t separate in a water-based mixture. I don’t add fragrance to this, but you can if you want–use fragrance sparingly, like several drops. Fragrance and essential oils are oils so they are prone to separation in a water-based mixture if you use too much.

And there you have it. If you look back at my post here from five years ago about how I made liquid soap then, you’ll see how much simpler I make it now. And it’s better soap, too, go figure!

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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