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Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Crafts

Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Crafts

Activities / Teacher Resources

Yucca Root Soap

The various species of yucca plants were important to many native Southwest tribes. Many used the sharp-pointed, waxy leaves for weaving. The Apaches used the long flower stalks and creamy white blossoms as a source of food. Most importantly, the roots of the yucca provided many Native Americans with a great natural shampoo and laundry soap because of its lathering properties.

In Chapter Six of Esperanza Means Hope, Esperanza’s father punished her by making her help Rosa, a hired Papago Indian woman, wash the family’s laundry at the acequia madre (the main irrigation ditch). At the ditch, they wet the clothes, applied soap, pounded them against the rocks and then hung them on the surrounding bushes to dry. Esperanza brought homemade lard soap to wash her clothes, while Rosa brought yucca root soap. Rosa remarked that yucca root soap was much easier on the clothes; Esperanza disagreed.

Follow the directions below to make your own yucca root soap, similar to the soap that Rosa would have made and used in the 1870s. You will need to make this soap with the assistance of an adult!


Processing the Yucca Root and Making Soap

  1. Clean the yucca root thoroughly using a vegetable brush to remove any loose dirt; loosen the skin as you handle the washed root.
  2. Peel off the outer layer of skin from the root using a vegetable peeler. Make certain to not soil the inner part of the root with removed dirt.
  3. AN ADULT SHOULD COMPLETE THIS STEP. Chop the root into small pieces using a sharp chef’s knife. Yucca roots are sticky and difficult to work with, so this may take some effort to complete.
  4. Pulverize the smaller bits of yucca root in a blender to make a pulpy substance.
  5. Place yucca pulp in a bowl and add 15 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil so that the soap has an aroma. Use an electric mixer to work in the essential oil.
  6. Line a cake pan with wax paper and spread the yucca root pulp and essential oil mixture onto the paper. Use a narrow pan so that the bars of soap are thick.
  7. Set the pan in the sun to dry (summer heat) or bake in an oven at 200-degrees for an hour until the soap is dry to the touch.
  8. AN ADULT SHOULD COMPLETE THIS STEP. Lastly, cut the dried yucca pulp mixture into bars of soap using a regular kitchen knife.
  9. The yucca root soap is ready to use.

The Blue Willow Pattern Legend

by Mary L. Stollard

Nearly every home in our country contains a specimen of some kind of the famous willow pattern ware. Yet even today, many people have never heard the true story of the willow pattern. For nearly two centuries, it has been one of the most popular of china designs, and many children have gazed entranced at the quaint little figures of the familiar willow pattern jingle –

‘Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.’

It tells of Knoon-shee, a lovely Chinese maiden, whose affections were bestowed upon her father’s secretary, Chang, but who was commanded by her parents to wed a wealthy rival suitor.

She refused to comply with their wishes, whereupon her enraged father locked her up in the little house just visible on the left of the temple. From here she contrived to send a message to her lover, ‘Gather thy blossom, ere it be stolen.’ Thus encouraged, Chang succeeded in entering the apple orchard and carrying off his beloved. So we see them hurrying over the bridge. Knoon-shee with a distaff, and Chang carrying her box of jewels, while the angry father follows hard after them armed with a whip.

The couple made good their escape in the ‘Chinese ship sailing by’ and landed on the island, which can be seen on the left of the picture, where they took refuge in the little wooden house. But the father and discarded suitor tracked them and set fire to the house while they were sleeping; and so the lovers perished.

Next morning, from the ashes rose their spirits, in the forms of two doves. And so we see them with out-stretched wings flying off to the realms of eternal happiness.

No one knows the origin of this story. It was told in China more than a thousand years ago and brought over to our country from Eastern lands by the Crusaders. The willow pattern, as we know it today, was designed by one Thomas Minton about 1780, and bought from him by Thomas Turner, a famous potter and manager of Shropshire pottery.

At that time the craze for collecting souvenirs from the East was at its height and this dainty little design, so typical of Chinese people, instantly became popular. Other potters copied the pattern with some variations, and though at first sight all willow patterns look alike, the different makes can be distinguished by various small details, such as the number of apples, the figures on the bridge, and the design of the crooked fence.

All early potters, however, used the same shade of cobalt blue, and though we have since had many other shades of lighter and darker tones, even browns or blacks, the original cobalt blue has always remained first favorite.

Few other makes of china are more attractive then a really good specimen of willow pattern, with their exquisite markings and minute detail carefully and accurately copied.