The Pioneer Woman takes multimedia success in stride.
When Ree Drummond launched her blog, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, she had a very particular audience in mind for her tales of rural life in Oklahoma, recipes and her young family.
“My target audience, when I first started my blog, was my mother. I didn’t really set out to blog with an audience in mind,” Drummond says. “But what I know of my readership (and the people who watch my show), they’re people from different parts of the country who aren’t necessarily exactly alike... but who are drawn to common things like food, family, humor and just overall enjoyment of life. A few brave men do admit to reading my website, but it’s largely women: sisters, moms, aunts, friends.”
Pioneer Woman clearly reached an audience larger than just family. Drummond, a Bartlesville native, parlayed a warm literary voice and amusing and insightful city mouse-country mouse observations into a considerable digital presence. She launched her blog and website in 2006 and quickly became one of the most popular bloggers in the country. The blog took Weblog of the Year honors in 2009 and 2010, and Forbes listed her as No. 22 on its list Top 25 Web Celebrities.
The sudden acclaim was a surprise to Drummond, who went to college and worked briefly in southern California before meeting and marrying husband Ladd Drummond, prompting her move to a massive ranch outside of Pawhuska – and a million figurative miles away from the life she’d known before as a surgeon’s daughter in Bartlesville and single girl in L.A. “I couldn’t possibly have imagined the things that followed,” Drummond says. “When I started my blog, I had no vision for it beyond that day. I just started a blog, and it evolved from there.
“When I started my blog, I christened it ‘Confessions of a Pioneer Woman’ because when my friends found out I was marrying a cattle rancher and moving to the country, they gave me the tongue-in-cheek moniker of ‘Pioneer Woman.’ In hindsight, I should have put Pioneer Woman in quotes, as it was always meant to be a tongue-in-cheek designation,” she adds.
Drummond’s writing touched on aspects of the contemporary zeitgeist, providing an early forum for other homeschoolers, for foodies unrepentantly unbeholden to minimalist trends, and for people living a rural lifestyle that bears more resemblance to The Waltons than to Sex and the City. Drummond emerged from the blogosphere as a unique renaissance woman, championing perspectives and sensibilities that speak to small town tradition, tight family bonds – and food, always food.
“It’s hard to put an exact label on Oklahoma food because there are so many talented cooks and chefs here that inject different spins into the old standbys,” Drummond says. “I think about it as a mix of Deep South, Tex-Mex and Country. There’s an accessibility and non-fussiness to the food in Oklahoma, but there can also be an elegance to it, too.”
The Pioneer Woman, as the enterprise is now known, was Drummond’s launching point for a career that now includes publishing and broadcast. Her first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, was published in October 2009. Her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier was published in March 2012. Rapidly a New York Times best selling author, her collection of essays on her path to romance, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, further endeared her to readers worldwide, and two children’s books centering on the Drummonds’ real-life basset hound, Charlie, made her an instant icon with the lunch-box demographic – and their parents. In a world when young adult literature leans to the macabre and violent, a la The Hunger Games, Drummond’s literary world is traditional and extremely appealing to families.
Drummond’s latest career expansion has been in television. Long a regular guest on some of the most popular programs in the country, such as Good Morning America, The Today Show and The View, Drummond’s Food Network program Pioneer Woman, debuted in 2011 and has subsequently been renewed.
Ironically, Drummond – who admits to having mild agoraphobia – says that the filming regiment causes her no anxiety. “I did have quite a learning curve when it came to being in front of the camera instead of behind it, and I’m still learning to be comfortable in that realm,” she says. “I would like the first six episodes of my show to be stricken from the record. I was very green. But public exposure, etc. just isn’t an issue on the ranch. Our daily lives here aren’t that different from the way they were before I started my blog. It’s just every now and then, a TV crew shows up to film cooking shows. Oh, and I’m probably 15 pounds heavier. Okay, 20.”
While many of the themes Drummond explores are highly traditional, the Pioneer Woman herself is a renaissance figure. She balances raising and home-schooling her children, ranch responsibilities, writing, cooking, filming – and accommodating media requests for yet more of her time.
“I do all my own photography, editing, blogging, and cookbook writing – those are things I can’t delegate,” Drummond explains. “My husband is my primary behind-the-scenes person in terms of helping with the home-schooling, sports practices and anything else with the kids during the times I’m busy filming. I have an assistant who helps me keep up with emails and my calendar. I have help with the shopping/prep when I shoot my cookbooks, which allows me to focus on the cooking and photography itself. And I have a cleaning crew that cleans my house twice a week. Things would go south really quickly if I didn’t.”
Husband Ladd, aka “The Marlboro Man” in print, is key to Drummond’s success and support network. “He’s my number one supporter,” she says. “By some luck of the draw, I happened to have married this strong, silent rancher type who just happened to ‘get’ the whole blogging thing from the beginning. He’s always understood it and embraced it. I couldn’t have done it if he didn’t. I think he’s enjoyed watching the evolution.”
Despite the demands on her from the publishing world and increasing media presence, Drummond can’t envision ever leaving her Pawhuska home – despite some minor frustrations. “There’s no trash service that comes to our curb once a week. Come to think of it, we don’t even have a curb. When the power goes out, it might be awhile before it’s back on. I have a shocking number of flat tires on an annual basis. Most everything else about the country, I absolutely love. And I love our small town of Pawhuska. It’s home. I can’t see myself living anywhere but our ranch.”
With plans in the works for a film version of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman brand remains on the upward trajectory – but she still occasionally gets a quiet evening to dine alone, away from multi-media demands, cameramen and media. Although it might surprise some of her culinary fans, her ideal dinner for herself contains nothing fried or any butter to speak of.
“If I were making just myself dinner tonight, and I could have any ingredient I wanted, let’s see... probably something like Thai Duck Curry, so spicy it would make my brow sweat. That’s not the kind of supper my husband and kids would generally embrace.”
Perhaps not, but Drummond herself, The Pioneer Woman, has been embraced by a legion of fans in Oklahoma and abroad.