Welcome to the Country Skills blog!

Brewing, home-curing, smoking, preserving, sewing, mending, re-using, repurposing and recycling, growing fruit and vegetables, and keeping livestock have all been everyday activities for most people for most of settled human history.  It’s only during the second part of the 20th Century that most of us have become divorced from the production of the food on our plates, the drink in our goblets, and the objects that surround us.

A couple of years ago life’s ebbs and flows brought me from the town to the country.  We’re not ‘down-sizers’ or smallholders, but we’ve taken advantage of the opportunities to discover and use new and local foods and ingredients, as well as exploring other traditional country skills like foraging, brewing, curing, preserving, growing food and keeping poultry.

This blog is somewhere to record my experiments, give (and invite!) advice, and above all to share the marvellous fact that these skills are simple, rewarding, cost effective, sustainable, and anyone can do it.  Time and again I’ve encountered a perception that these skills are difficult to learn, complex, time consuming, and even dangerous!  My experience is that nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m a lazy cook, and work long hours doing a demanding job.  Whoever you are, and wherever you live – from the heart of the city to the most isolated rural spot – there is something here you should be trying!

The Country Skills ‘Manifesto’, in a nutshell?

That every day, we should all be eating, drinking, and using things that we have made, or grown, which we would normally have bought.  Bread, bacon or beer.  Jam, jelly or marmalade.  Eggs from your hens, salad from your garden, or even herbs from your window box!  Handmade place-mats, or decorative and scented candles.  If you’re not normally a cook, then it might just be a meal from scratch instead of a microwave pack, or a lunch that doesn’t come out of a retail sandwich carton.  Real food – food that we make ourselves, food that involves us, made with love for the people we care for (or just for ourselves!) – is full of good flavour, good vibes, and just plain goodness, and can’t help but enrich all our lives.

We should be filling our lives and our homes with food – and objects! – which have been hand-made, not manufactured.  It’s good for us, good for our families, good for our communities, and good for the planet.  Simple.

Please get in touch – email kate@countryskillsblog.com, find (and ‘Like’) us on Facebook, or  on twitter.

22 thoughts on “Welcome to the Country Skills blog!

  1. I love, love, love this concept! I’ve only just started making my own bread and yoghurt, after years of wanting to be more self-sufficient and ‘real’. I will be following with keen interest 🙂

      • Thanks Kate, I will! No, I haven’t tried sourdough. I have been using a recipe that is really simple: flour, yeast, salt, water; allow to rise in the fridge overnight; remove from fridge in the morning to bring to room temp; place in cold oven and cook for 45 minutes. It creates a lovely chewy texture. But I am smitten with the idea of having a ‘mother’ dough starter, and the sour flavour of sourdough is very addictive.

        • I managed to get my sourdough starter going – after a fair struggle! – almost a year ago – I’ve baked with it at least every other week since then, and I wouldn’t be without it now. It makes the most amazing bread, better than anything I’ve ever bought – even stacks up against the amazing bread from craft bakeries, and fresh-as-fresh-is-fresh. Awesome stuff. The ups and downs of the ‘birth’ of the starter made a fun set of blog posts at the time!

  2. Hello there. Some really good stuff on here, I am realy enjoying reading the blogs thank you. I knew this sort of thing would become more popular again as time moved on. I’ve had an allotment since my early 20’s (mid forties now) and back then very un-trendy most of my friends took the mickey and seemed more interested in talking house prices! I was fortunate enough however to speak to some of the ‘ good old boys’ up the plot about some finer points of horticulture and learned loads, peppered with tales of the D Day landings. I am truely bitten by the bug and in more recent times I have aquired a hot smoker, bake my own breads I have learned how to brew real ale just how I like it, and with my own grown hops, ( I have not been so excited since my motorbike days!). I grow my own mushrooms and have four lovely hens who lay gormet eggs to go with my own cured bacon. Next project is make a suitable cold smoker contraption, sausage making and finding some woodland to make charcoal. Who needs the telly?

    • Welcome! Glad you’ve found a useful snippet or two here to supplement your already extensive knowledge! I’m very pleased with my cold-smoker arrangement and would recommend it as a starting point for anyone – it’s required basically no modifications since the initial ‘debugging’ process. As it happens I’ve ordered hop rhizomes just today, so I can see some home-brew supplemented with my own hops in the future, with a bit of luck! Seeds starting, and it’s going to be our first ‘real’ year with the new veggie garden and greenhouse, so another vertical learning curve is coming. Always something new to learn or tinker with. As you say, who needs the TV?

      • Hello Kate, firstly the cold smoker; being the ‘master of disaster’ with any form of hand tools I’m hoping to get a chippie mate to make me some kind of wooden vertical box with shelves and hanging hooks, I have a picture in my mind (neat little temp gage would be Gucci!). I’m on the look out for some sort of firebox type thing to sit on my calor gas burner that I use for brewing, something I could put the sawdust in and set low and leave to it. Any suggestions for something suitable? I guess then run a length of tubing/ducting from one to the other (15 foot ish?).
        Fair play to you for going for some hop Rhyzomes, Nothing like a bit of long term planning for a ‘booze up’! what variety did you go for and how many?
        I have 2 x Challenger bines (medium bittering hop) and a Fuggles (aroma hop) unfortunately the Goldings and Cascade failed for no apparent reason. This will be the third year which is when they reach maturity apparently. They are beasties and grow really feircly 15′ last year and up to 18′ once mature. Best grown up string (bailing twine is good) no less than 30 degrees angle (forgive me if I am saying what you allready know). Fresh picked they are like nothing else…I could bath in ’em. Good luck 🙂

        • I looked at ducted firebox arrangements and decided the smouldering sawdust approach without an external heat source, in the form of the little pro-Q burner I bought, was the best way forward. I’ve sometimes wished it could generate thicker smoke, or for longer, but overall I’ve been really really thrilled with it. One of these days I’ll get my act together and build a bigger version of the same sort of thing as part of the scale-up plan. The nice thing is the really consistent smoke generation over a pretty reliable ~10hrs (it can be a couple of hours more when the temperature is down close to freezing). I bought mine from these people, who’ve been pretty reliable whenever I’ve ordered from them. If you’ve not had a look around the cold smoker design & build pages, they have most of the construction & debugging details!

          Bought three rhizomes, they’re Fuggles, Bramling cross & EKG, good solid English bitter aroma hops. They’re really for camouflaging the side of a slightly ugly shed / lean-to, so the production will be a nice bonus. They arrived today and I’ll be planting them at the weekend with a bit of luck. They’ll have to go ‘up and over’ the shed, which may not be ideal but I’m sure they’ll cope! Our soil is a bit heavy, so I’ll do what I can to improve it, but then they’ll just have to do, or not, as the case may be!

  3. Hi I have just stumbled upon your blog-its great! will have a good read through : ) a great idea : )

  4. Love your blog.RE: Self-watering wine bottle planters. They should work great. I’m a member of an African Violet club. Most of us use the “wicking” method to water. Depending on size of my potted plant, I use empty plastic butter tubs or small cool whip containers. Cut a hole in the lid close to the edge large enough for the wick to go thru-larger if you want to refill hole. As plant is potted run wick thru pot from almost the top down the side & out the bottom hole. The pot sits on the closed container & the wick goes into the reservoir. When water’s down, I allow the soil to slightly dry before the next refill. Very successful for us. BTW Only use man-made material for wick (acrylic yarn, rayon, nylon cord, pantyhose strips) Good Luck with your project. I’m expecting success for you.

    • Thanks Lynda. They do seem to work very well for the herbs! Out of interest, why the insistence on synthetic materials for the wick? I’m using cotton kitchen string in mine and seems to work just fine. Risk of rotting or something different?

  5. Forgot to tell you that I make the wine bottle planter with an African Violet for special gifts. If it’s not for a special occasion, I use 2 liter plastic soda bottles, 10 oz water bottles, the 1/2 size water bottle & even the sundae cups which have domes (which I turn upside down & plant it-nothing to cut). Full grown plants for the wine bottles & 2 ltr bottles, smaller ones to share or swap smaller or starter plants. My friends seem to love them & most select which plant they like. I’ll start a new one which will be ready by the time their birthday rolls around.

  6. Please forgive me for the delay in responding. You assumed correctly. Cotton will rot over time. If your plants are wicked, your plants could suffer if a cotton cord rots inside the pot. The water would not reach the soil because the wick rotted away & you possibly wouldn’t notice unless you’re repotting.

  7. Ha! Keep clicking ‘Like’ all over the blog! Great to have found you – do you have an email prompt thing? Am hopeless at checking Word Press. On Twitter @MrsCarlieLee, if you do…thank you, and hurrah for country skills!

  8. Just found your blog. ..
    Aa a retired Executive Chef, I’ve done my fair share of experimenting with food…It’s my Job
    to play with food. ..and it’s great. ..
    Smoking fish hot or cold, is always fun. ..
    Have you tried your hand at corned brisket ??
    I have, and used veal for it. Outstanding !!!
    Your bacon in a bag has my name written all over it…Bought the belly yesterday. .going to start after this.
    You fail to mention that the average reader of this blog will be completely lost when it comes to butchering.
    It’s an intensive skill that requires lots of learning, practice. .like working in a commercial kitchen making food for 1500 people/day…and continual work to ensure those knife skills don’t atrophy.
    Mopst people are afraid of a 10″ Chef knife, but smaller knives, which you find in everyone’s home, left dull, are more dangerous than a sharp chef knife. ..Otherwise, carry on. .well written, and it’s my favorite subject…Of Course I like it !!!!

    • Hi Mike and thanks for stopping by!

      I’ve written a couple of blog posts covering basic butchery techniques, such as this tutorial on portioning a chicken, but you’re right that most people lack the confidence to do these sorts of kitchen tasks, unfortunately. I’m a big fan of salt beef too – though I don’t make it often enough, must do again now that the seasons are on the turn! I’m making do with a very small fridge at the moment which is rather limiting my curing endeavours… One of these days I’ll manage the kitchen revamp!

  9. Great instructions on filleting trout that are gutted! Though I have been an outdoorsman for more than 30 years, I have never done it this way (I’ve eithe filleted while leaving the guts in or just gutted them and cooked them whole). I have a mess of gutted trout in the freezer that I will try to fillet following your instructions. Two comments: You can use the “carcass” of filleted fish for soups or stock and trout or salmon fillets can be cold-cured with salt and sugar (called grav lax in Scandinavian countries). John Motoviloff

  10. Hi! I’ve just come across this gem of a blog completely by accident. Looking forward to a really good read!

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