Food from the Frontier 'Pioneer Woman' Ree Drummond Broke New Ground as a Blogger-Turned-Food Celebrity, and She's Coming to Town with Her New Cookbook
McKay, Gretchen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)
Ree Drummond wasn't looking for celebrity when she sat down at the computer five years ago, created a blog on WordPress and started typing. Blessed with a few quiet hours free of children, she simply thought it might be fun to tell a few stories from the Oklahoma homefront -- and as a cowboy wife and mother of four, she had some pretty good ones.
Eleven years before, she'd abandoned a plan to go to law school to marry the handsome rancher she'd met in a bar near her childhood home in a suburb north of Tulsa. And while the sprawling ranch on which her husband, Ladd, raises some 5,000 head of cattle had become home, she still sometimes felt like a fish out of water in the country, 20 miles from the nearest small town.
"It definitely was a transition," recalls Ms. Drummond, chuckling about the unplanned rural life she's shared with millions via her popular website The Pioneer Woman (pioneerwoman.com). "In fact, that's where the name came from. It was sort of tongue and cheek. Like, excuse me?"
Today, it might seem like any Tom, Dick or Harriet with an Internet connection and an urge to confess runs a personal blog. But back in 2006, Ms. Drummond -- who at 4 p.m. on Monday will be signing copies of her new cookbook at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, her first visit to Pittsburgh -- was very much on the frontier of the emerging medium.
Having briefly studied broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, she was comfortable with an audience. So blogging, she says, "clicked" with her from the get-go.
Almost immediately, she had readers, lots of them, who delighted in her funny, self-deprecating posts on everything from homeschooling her children to wearing Pajama Pants to doing laundry and other household chores. The site, which includes sections on Entertainment, Home & Garden and Photography, also playfully explores the ins and outs of living on a working cattle ranch -- "confessions" that allow readers -- who wish they also could ditch the city rat race for the peace of the country -- to dream of a life a little less hectic or ordinary.
Yet it wasn't until Ms. Drummond started posting step-by-step cooking tutorials -- how to cook a perfect steak, bake cornbread, layer a lasagna -- that her site really took off. Something about the straightforwardness of her cooking, and the humor and patience with which the dimpled redhead went about it, struck an immediate chord. And the mouth-watering pictures she shot of the recipes weren't too bad, either.
Maybe readers just liked the fact that unlike many food bloggers, Ms. Drummond didn't take herself too seriously. As she puts it, "People know when the come to my site that they're not going to get agitated. There's no political subjects or debate. It's a light, harmless place to stop by."
A runaway hit on the blogosphere, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman took the top prize at the 2009 Bloggie awards, besting heavyweights such as the Huffington Post and PerezHilton.com. Eight months later, her first cookbook, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl" (William Morrow, $27.50), debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, followed by a top-selling children's book about the family's basset hound, Charlie, in 2011. Today, her site -- it also won Bloggies for best weblog in 2010 and 2011 -- gets almost 24 million page views per month, and more than 4 million unique visitors.
Naturally, producers for both the big and small screen have come knocking.
The movie rights to last year's third book, "Black Heels to Tractor Wheels -- A Love Story," about her romance with Ladd, who she affectionately refers to in print as Marlboro Man, was optioned by Sony Pictures. (Reese Witherspoon is rumored to have signed on to star.) And in August, Ms. Drummond filmed her first season of "Pioneer Woman," a cooking show on The Food Network, in her well- appointed guest house on the ranch.
"I know, it seems like it all happened so fast," she says from the ranch near Pawhuska during a phone interview that started 10 minutes late because she was finishing up a project with her teenaged daughter. …