“Pioneer Woman” author Ree Drummond shares her story about becoming a real country woman.
By Avery Hunter
Ree Drummond, known to her readers as The Pioneer Woman, grew up a city girl in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a place she describes as a “cultured, corporate hometown.” Her days were a circuit of school, ballet, country club, mall. Although Oklahoma’s largest industry is farming, in Ree’s world, food came from the supermarket and “countryside” meant the golf course behind her parents’ house.
College at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles did nothing to dispel those notions. Six years later, tired of LA but not of city life, she visited Bartlesville on her way to Chicago and law school—and met a cowboy who stole her heart and changed her life. Ree became a ranch wife on his isolated cattle operation, far from town and even farther from law school.
Adjusting to country life took some time for Ree (a childhood nickname—for Ann-Marie—that she’s worn forever). The hardest part was that she couldn’t “just hop in the car and be somewhere in 10 minutes,” she says. The closest town—Pawhuska, population 3,500—was 20 miles away and offered little of the shopping or culture Ree was accustomed to. Forget Saks, forget the symphony: She now lived an hour from a Wal-Mart. Her husband, Ladd, worked long hours on their acreage. Ree spent her days home alone, washing jeans and knocking manure off boots.
Eventually she adjusted. Soon Ree found she had fallen in love not just with her cowboy, but also with their land and lifestyle. Fifteen years and four children later, she describes herself as “semi-agoraphobic,” preferring to stay put, homeschool her children and help with ranching. The complete about-face still surprises her a bit. “Ironically,” she says, “the best thing about living in the country is what I had the most trouble with at first—the solitude.”
Big Ranch, Small World
In 2006, Ree began a blog about her life on the ranch and found the rest of the world really wasn’t that far away.
She started The Pioneer Woman on a whim, mainly to keep her mother in Tennessee up to date on the Drummonds’ doings. But as it grew to include recipes, homeschooling advice, a serialized account of her romance with her husband (whom she calls simply Marlboro Man) and more, it rapidly picked up fans. Her website now gets more than 20 million hits a month. It’s also spawned the best-selling The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl and several other books. A Food Network series, taped in the kitchen of her guesthouse, debuted in August. Ree’s ranch is still remote, but it’s far from isolated.
To her many readers, Ree has become an icon of country life. In the wry description on her blog, this desperate housewife channels Lucille Ball, Vivien Leigh and Ethel Merman. She sprinkles sentences with exclamations of “Duh!” and “Har!” Telling fellow bloggers not to be afraid to embarrass themselves, she cheerfully follows her own advice, sharing what she calls humiliation chronicles and gross-out stories with a breeziness that’s part of her charm.
But her household projects are often inspiring and her ranch photos breathtaking. Her down-home recipes, with helpful step-by-step photos, have drawn a following all their own. Reading her blog is like chatting with a slightly goofy but talented friend at your kitchen table.
Many who frequent Ree’s site are themselves country women. Others, in cities or suburbs, appreciate the way of life she writes about.
“The world is stressful,” Ree explains. “It’s tempting to think if you just chuck it all and go to the country, everything will be easier. It is a wonderful life, but it’s not romance all the time. Every family has ups and downs, and it is hard to make a living in agriculture. Too much is out of your control—markets, the weather. We’ve seen more than one scary moment on the roller coaster of agriculture.”
Then again, lack of control can be liberating. It allows you to just let go, she says, which in turn lets you live more in the moment.
“Today is what I am most thankful for—just being able to live today with my husband and children,” she says. And while she knows that’s not an approach exclusive to the country, Ree says reflectively, “The country made it possible for me.”
Photography by Jim Wieland & Styling by Melissa Haberman