Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Warren County, NC
Carolyn Long remembers the Ridgeway of her childhood as a place with strong traditional values of community life and mutual support. Families and neighbors were close, and church and school knitted the community together. She fondly remembers Ridgeway’s Christmas traditions, which included personal visits from Santa—a local man who would visit each home with children during the Christmas season: “We would tell this when we went back to school, and nobody would believe us.”
Long’s family farmed, growing the cantaloupes for which Ridgeway is renowned. Like many rural families, they were highly self-sufficient; among Long’s childhood recollections is a memory of her grandmother and cousins gathering to make soap with lye and lard put aside at hog-killing time. Long remembers the finished product as large, rough blocks that contained a variety of colors.
In 2003, Long says, a friend of hers from work “came to me out of the clear blue, and said, ‘Carolyn, how would you like to make some soap?’” The friend had been learning and experimenting with recipes, and Long was surprised to learn how readily accessible the ingredients were: “Simple ingredients that you can go to your local grocery store and get. Sometimes you already have a lot of it in your kitchen cabinet, and you’ve already had it for a long, long time.”
In the years since, she has turned soap-making into a business. Though she sometimes fills requests for old-fashioned batches made from lard, she prefers to use purer plant-based oils like olive, shea butter, cocoa, and palm. She usually makes four batches a month, which yield 18 bars each. Just as her forebears farmed based upon the phases of the moon and other celestial bodies, Long has found that soap mixed and poured at the full moon sets better and makes a better finished product. The ingredients are simple, but the process is long and involved. After mixing the ingredients and pouring them into a mould, she lets the mixture set overnight. The next day she cuts it into bars, which she leaves to cure for ten days. Then she flips the batches, and leaves them to cure even longer. Long likes to leave soap to cure for at least four weeks—“The longer the better,” she says.
Long has regular customers and also sells her soaps at area festivals.