Soap is the name of the game for th­ese en­ter­pris­ing souls

Twin sis­ters Chris­tine Bothma and Al­ida Tal­jaard are mak­ing the most of their late mother’s recipe for old-fash­ioned boerseep: ev­ery week they each make 400 to 600 bars of soap and sev­eral bags of grated Ouma Hanna se Boerseep that are duly snapped up at farm stalls, gift shops and mar­kets coun­try­wide.

“Now, you lis­ten closely to what this aunty has to tell you to­day: there’s not a damn chance that any flea will jump on a dog that’s been washed with boerseep,” says Al­ida Tal­jaard, her right fore­fin­ger tap­ping out “not a damn” on the block of soap ly­ing on the kitchen ta­ble. “Bu-u-u-u-ut – and there’s the rub – you ac­tu­ally shouldn’t wash a dog, or a blan­ket, for that mat­ter, with boerseep, be­cause it foams so much that it’s dif­fi­cult to rinse out.”

Chris­tine, the “eight min­utes older, more re­strained sis­ter” from Kuils River who’s vis­it­ing Bon­nievale for the day, nods. “Boerseep is a won­der­ful old-fash­ioned prod­uct: gen­tle on the skin, biodegrad­able, eco-friendly,

mul­ti­pur­pose, con­cen­trated and there­fore very eco­nom­i­cal… That’s re­ally all we have in the house, as sham­poo and to wash laun­dry, floors, dishes, dirty bath mats… my hus­band even shaves with it,” she says.

“And it’s a fab­u­lous stain re­mover!” shouts Al­ida, eyes and mouth open wide, as if she’s star­ring in a com­mer­cial for wash­ing pow­der. “Noth­ing – noth­ing – dis­penses with a stub­born stain or smell the way this does… Es­pe­cially stress sweat, which has quite a nasty smell to it – boerseep will do the trick.”

SOAP-MAK­ING is as old as the hills; the first ev­i­dence of man-made soap­like sub­stances dates back to about 2800 BC. Once upon a time, ev­ery sec­ond house­hold cooked its own soap from avail­able in­gre­di­ents.

Old-fash­ioned boerseep is made from ren­dered beef or mut­ton suet (the hard “in­testi­nal fat” around the stom­ach and kid­neys rather than the “car­cass fat” used in sausage) and lye wa­ter (rain­wa­ter in which the ash from burnt shrubs such as lye­bush and spek­bos was leached, but since then the ash has been re­placed with caus­tic soda).

The tale of Ouma Hanna se Boerseep be­gan on the Louws’ fam­ily farm Eland­soog in the Mid­del­pos dis­trict in the Ka­roo, where Al­ida and Chris­tine’s grand­mother Dui­fie cooked soap the old-fash­ioned way. Dui­fie, in turn, taught her daugh­ter Jo­hanna (the twins’ late mother, Ouma Hanna) the art. Soon, how­ever, Jo­hanna switched to cold-wa­ter boerseep, which she made in a tin bath. This soap doesn’t get cooked. In­stead, the fat (which is acidic) is stirred with wa­ter in which caus­tic soda flakes (al­ka­line) are dis­solved un­til the mix­ture saponi­fies (turns into soap).

In Oc­to­ber 2007, Al­ida took over the mak­ing of the soap from her mother. At first she handed out th­ese white “mir­a­cle bars” to fam­ily and friends, but even­tu­ally she de­cided to start a small business. She reg­is­ter­erd the do­main name “boerseep” and started mar­ket­ing Ouma Hanna se Boerseep.

In Au­gust 2009, Chris­tine, a trained oral hy­gien­ist who had great suc­cess as an en­tre­pre­neur sell­ing tomb­stones (“my all-time best­seller”) and the con­tro­ver­sial APS Ther­apy pain-re­lief ma­chine, de­cided to follow in her sis­ter’s foot­steps.

To­day, they both use their mother’s recipe and the same name, but each man­ages her own business with her own cus­tomers. Chris­tine’s pack­ag­ing is in English and she fo­cuses on

“Our is part of the huge boom in all kinds of for­got­ten art forms and pi­o­neer in­dus­tries.”

fairs, mar­kets and fes­ti­vals, whereas mail or­ders con­sti­tute about 90% of Al­ida’s business.

“Our boerseep is part of the huge boom in all kinds of for­got­ten art forms and pi­o­neer in­dus­tries,” says Chris­tine.

“Peo­ple are grow­ing vegetables and fruit again, they’re knit­ting and cro­chet­ing, bak­ing bread, mak­ing their own beer, roast­ing their own cof­fee beans… My hus­band and I are mem­bers of the Veteran Trac­tors Club, and I see the type of peo­ple who take their chil­dren there: peo­ple with “com­puter kids”, peo­ple who long for the less hec­tic life they knew long >

ago and that only ex­ists in iso­lated pock­ets th­ese days.

“There’s an el­e­ment of nostal­gia – they want to show their chil­dren how they grew up; this is how a trac­tor works; this is how you milk a cow – but there is also a de­sire to live greener or health­ier lives. Boerseep – any soap, in fact, that is made from pure, nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents – is bet­ter for your skin than any com­mer­cial soap, and in an era where ev­ery­thing is fast-paced and ever eas­ier, it’s great to make some­thing that is just as labour-in­ten­sive, messy and slow as it was when our grand­moth­ers toiled over the caul­dron. There aren’t any short cuts to take.”

Stir, and stir some more

In the back­yard we meet Jan Baard­man, who’s orig­i­nally from Leeu-Gamka but has lived in Bon­nievale for 20 years. Jan op­er­ates the meat grinder in which buck­et­loads of white fat are ground be­fore it’s ren­dered in gi­gan­tic pots on a gas stove.

As we get closer, a bird flies out of a bas­ket lean­ing against the wall.

“Look at the spekvretertjie [fa­mil­iar chat],” says Al­ida. “They love the bits of fat.” In the nest, the chicks com­plain as if they haven’t been fed for three days.

Al­ida ex­plains how the caus­tic soda is dis­solved in rain­wa­ter col­lected in a tank. Be­cause this process pro­duces heat and toxic fumes, they work with masks. The lye wa­ter is al­lowed to cool overnight be­fore it is added to the melted fat the fol­low­ing day. The mix­ture is then stirred un­til the first third of the saponi­fi­ca­tion process has taken place.

After stir­ring for two to three hours (now done me­chan­i­cally, at least), the soap is poured into moulds lined with grease­proof pa­per. It sets un­der a cloth for four to five hours be­fore be­ing cut into bars. “The Lord must have known some­day I’d be cut­ting soap,” says Al­ida, “so He gave me strong arms.”

The soap bars are then cov­ered with blan­kets and left in the sun for roughly two weeks to slowly saponify fur­ther. Then Regina Pi­eterse pack­ages the soap bars, which are left for another two to three weeks un­til the pH is low enough for them to be used.

THE TWIN SIS­TERS both mar­ried diesel me­chan­ics and both have two chil­dren, and although they both make boerseep, they’re as dif­fer­ent as chalk and cheese.

“I’m the wild one and Chris­tine is the quiet one,” Al­ida laughs. “We grew up in a home where you worked with ev­ery­thing pro­duced on the farm, such as fresh vegetables, canned and dried fruit, eggs and boerseep. But our fa­ther al­ways said Al­ida was the true farmer’s wife who could and wanted to do it all: bake, knit, cro­chet, cook jam, pre­serve fruit, sew, play the ac­cor­dion… and she’s good with peo­ple. I am the busi­ness­woman, the in-the-box per­son and the one who is bet­ter at one-onone in­ter­ac­tion. I like the business side of things.”

Chris­tine and her hus­band ran their own me­chan­i­cal work­shop in Kuils River from 2004 to Fe­bru­ary 2014. “Dur­ing the day I worked with him and in the evenings he worked with me, but since March 2014 we’ve been mak­ing soap full time.”

When we say goodbye, we spot the sign on Al­ida’s gate: “Be­ware of the dog’s owner.” Not at all. Only a stub­born stain and a flea need be afraid.

boerseep.co.za (where you’ll find a list of stock­ists and their con­tact de­tails)

Chris­tine 084 548 7913 boerseep­info@gmail.com

Al­ida 082 264 3057 boerseep@telkomsa.net >

Al­ida Tal­jaard (left) from Bon­nievale and her twin sis­ter Chris­tine Bothma from Kuils River make ev­ery bar of Ouma Hanna se Boerseep by hand. Here, they stand be­hind the dis­play

racks they use at mar­kets.

ABOVE The old tin bath in which her mother used to make boerseep hangs on the wall of the room where Al­ida makes soap. IN­SET The late Jo­hanna Louw, whose face fea­tures on the pack­ag­ing of Ouma Hanna se Boerseep, stir­ring soap in the tin bath.

A fa­mil­iar chat has made its nest close to a rich food source: in Al­ida’s yard where the fat is ground for mak­ing soap.

RIGHT On this shelf in her study Al­ida keeps boerseep – her own, her com­peti­tors’, im­ported soap, soap that’s more than 80 years old…


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