Here in the mountains, we like to keep things simple. We handcraft our products in small batches from natural oils, & plant-derived ingredients. The result? Real soap for natural living.
All of our soaps are Real Soaps, which means that they are primarily comprised of the “alkali salts of fatty acids” (source). In other words, we combine sodium or potassium hydroxide with fats and oils to make soap. Unlike a lot of products on the market today, our soaps contain no petroleum derivatives--just Real Soap!
We add scent to our soaps my adding essential oils, fragrance oils, or a combination of both. While essential oils have great label appeal, they don't always have the top, middle, and base notes that make up a well-balanced fragrance. Additionally, many essential oils are extremely volatile and lack the staying-power of fragrance oils. For example, in a product like our bar soaps (which require a 6-8 week aging period), the scent of some essential oils would be non-existent by the time the bars reached the market. That's why we often use both: so you get the best each has to offer.
And what about those pretty colors? We use a selection of lab-manufactured oxides and ultramarines to bring color to our soaps. And while these minerals are often found in nature, they aren't always as pure as the manufactured options.
And please, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd love to hear from you!
Who we are
When it all started
Why we do it
Saranac Mountain Hearth
We are a community-focused business specializing in small-bath personal care products. Our products can be purchased through our website, or they can be found at local stores, markets, and craft fairs throughout the Adirondack region of New York State.
Ernest W. Hayduke lived an uncomplicated life. His home was a one-room log cabin built in the woods several miles from town. He grew his own vegetables, kept a small flock for eggs, and hunted meat in the acres surrounding his homestead.
What his garden, animals, and the forest couldn’t provide, he traded for in town. The first Friday of the month, Duke (as he was referred to by the locals), could be found in the town center, sitting in the back of his small buggy waiting for people to trade with. Duke never had to wait long, nor did he have to seek people out; what he had to offer was far less common in the markets than a sack of flour, a bolt of fabric, or even a pound of sugar.
Duke was thrifty, and he let nothing go to waste. The fat from the meat he hunted was rendered in a large kettle on top of the wood stove he used to cook his meals and heat his home. To the rendered fat, he would add caustic potash made by draining collected rain water through a barrel of ashes swept from his stove. This mixture of fat and potash would be left to cook for days until nothing but a kettle of soft soap paste remained.
Duke would then dilute the soap paste with water before pouring some of the liquid soap into glass jugs that had been given a hefty dose of cider vinegar to take out the bite of any excess potash.
Soap—real soap made from fats and oils—was scarce during the Great War as the demand for valuable fats grew. As a result, people were forced to either buy detergents for personal grooming and housekeeping, or make real soap themselves. Duke, however, never saw the need to purchase or trade for detergents as the animals he hunted provided enough fat to keep him clean; whatever he had left he traded. After all, how much soap does one mountain man need?
There wasn’t a lot of soap to be traded—a month’s worth of meat for one man hardly supplies enough raw materials to keep a small town clean—but people would line up with their goods and hope they had something Duke needed.
By the start of World War II, Ernest W. Hayduke was a local celebrity, and the townspeople knew that as the supply of real soap diminished, Duke would be their only reliable (albeit limited) source. Many continued to try their luck, hoping that Duke would be in the market for some cornmeal, milk, or potatoes. Others sought him out at his home where he eagerly taught them the art of making soap.
My great-aunt, Pearlie-Mae Murphy, was one such person. As a young woman in the 1940s, she learned the basics from Duke and improved upon his methods, hoping to add a little luxury to war time. She painstakingly collected pine sap and added it to her kettle of fats; she dissolved the soft soap paste in teas made from flower petals, rosemary, and herbs. The soap she made not only filled her home with the smell of balsam, but added a cleansing scent to the finished products.
Aunt Pearl passed her wisdom down to her children who eagerly taught me their methods. While the underlying principles have remained the same, the soap at Saranac Mountain Hearth does differ from that made by Ernest W. Hayduke.
We use food-grade vegetable oils and rosin, and our lye and potash are pure and food-grade products that are no longer swept from the stove but purchased online. We do cook over fire--on a kitchen range--but have traded hours of stirring for a few minutes with an immersion blender.
The result: "real soap for natural living". That’s what you’ll find with Saranac Mountain Hearth.
As a result of wartime scarcity in the 40s, Matthew's great-aunt, Pearlie-Mae Murphy, learned to cook soap from the animal fats, fragrant herbs, and spring water, which were available in and around her home. And while the end of World War II saw the reintroduction of commercially made products, it was a familial desire for self-sufficiency that brought her methods into the 21st century. It was the simplicity of Aunt Pearl’s soaps that inspired the driving principle for all of the products that SHM creates. We, too, have a desire to keep things simple, preferring to handcraft our products in small batches from natural oils, botanicals, and plant-derived ingredients.
Furthermore, when we craft a bar of soap or a bottle of lotion, we like to know that every ingredient has a specific purpose in the final product. Whether it’s an oil that contributes a luxurious lather, or a fragrance inspired by the surrounding Adirondack Mountains, we aim to become intimately familiar with how and why each essential ingredient works in each of our products. SMH hopes to remove some of the uncertainty we all feel when looking at a long (and often complicated) ingredient list. In this ever changing world, we long for familiarity—and what’s more familiar than sunflower oil, evergreens, and clean water?
Although Matthew has spent a decade reading online forums for crafters, turn-of-the-century books for large-scale manufacturers, and scientific articles about the chemistry behind soap production, there remains a hint of magic in the process of combining caustic lye with greasy fats, all in an effort to make “real soap” for cleansing one’s body. For him, the excitement of arriving at the final product never wanes.
Family heritage, a desire for simplicity, and scientific intrigue, underscore the core values on which Matthew has built his business. The result: “real soap for natural living”. That’s what you’ll find with Saranac Mountain Hearth.