The Pioneer Cook and Her Intimate Voice

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pdubLast Saturday I was a panelist on a BlogHer Food panel about voice and identity. Audience members were particularly interested in how personal they should be in their posts. It’s a good question, figuring out what to reveal, what only to imply, and what not to say.

Or at least that’s what I thought it was about. To process my thoughts, I looked at the writing of our panel’s biggest celebrity, Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman Cooks. She has 13 million annual visitors, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While on our panel, Ree said she writes “like I’m talking to my sister or my best friend.” Now, I don’t know about you, but you can be pretty personal with those kinds of people. But I couldn’t find much intimate content at all when I examined her cooking blog.

It’s her voice that’s intimate, not the content. It’s passionate, happy, loving, friendly, and self-deprecating. In her recipes, she projects the kind of best friend and sister we all wish we had. She’s intimate without revealing much detail about herself. Brilliant, eh?

On Cowboy Breakfast Sandwiches, for example, Ree jokes about her saddlebag thighs and defends Miracle Whip and processed American cheese. She ends with the oldest advice in the world, that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach: “Make this for breakfast this week! Any male within 50 square miles will go berserk. And for me, in this life I’ve been given, that’s always a measure of a recipe’s success.” In this last sentence she lets readers know she believes in God, she’s satisfied and happy. It inspires them. To date, that blog post alone garnered 343 comments.

Here’s more from today’s post about Baba Ghanoush: “I’m happy with the life I’ve been given. I love my family. I’m okay with the cow that thinks it’s a dog and sleeps on my porch. I can even make my peace with the flies. Maybe. And I embrace all of the country food I’ve had to learn to make in the last decade-plus of my life: fried chicken, chocolate sheet cake, chicken fried steak. So if I want to wig out one day and make a traditional Middle Eastern eggplant spread with a totally funky name, I give myself permission.”

You find out she’s spiritual, she’s happy, she’s funny, she accepts and embraces life, and she gives herself permission. What’s not to love? She inspires her readers to live life as well as she does. She leaves out the messy things we all obsess about: self-doubt and second guessing, family problems, bad decisions.

Perhaps that’s what people meant when they asked how much to reveal. Ree chooses not to reveal negativity. It works. The Baba Ganoush post has not been up for 24 hours and it already has 220 comments.

So maybe Ree’s blog is personal because of her voice. And maybe that’s a way to go, to omit the messy stuff but be intimate anyway, in the way you write to others.


  1. says

    Thanks for this post. It’s great to hear you point out what works on Ree’s blog.

    I just keep wondering how I can get 12 million (or even 10% of that number) visitors to my blog ( so that I can get all those wonderful (and sometimes not) comments. I don’t do a lot of complaining but obviously vegetables and plant-foods aren’t as sexy or interesting as country life and Ree.

  2. says

    Ree is AMAZING! There was another blog first that was not as focused on cooking and more personal life stuff-her background, how she met HIM etc. I used to try to keep up a year ago but it was daunting. She’s a super photographer and photoshops like crazy between cooking and herding cattle at 6 am etc. How does she do it? She was a graphic designer in LA I think…so not country-raised and bred – a city slicker! Her voice is certainly very warm and friendly and inviting. She seems to be sitting right across the kitchen table from you. The next Rachel Ray? Who knows.
    If they did a movie on her I wouldn’t be surprised.

  3. says

    She does have a way of drawing you in, but I think it’s more than just her words, which I actually think are somewhat personal, or recipes but instead about life-style appeal. She’s lassoed the pony so to speak while also given readers something to look forward to outside their particular lives.

    I find it funny, in a way, and yet interesting too (and admire her) the huge draw, though again I think it’s her story and down home sense of self that carries it off.

    And Jill-I don’t even think you should compare yourself–it’s a different beast, no?. You’re right though that vegetables and plant based foods aren’t as sexy to the average gal about town-though I suppose they could be made to be (remember Roxanne’s?)..

  4. says

    Her blog is the kind that once you entered, you cannot leave, which is why I don’t follow it often… it’s sucking time. But beyond the writing there’s the gorgeous photos, the life style which raises curiosity in those who are not familiar with it and draws those who live it. There’s the romantic story about how she met her husband – who deosn’t love that?! There’s a lot going on on Ree’s site. She’s a blogging machine.

    An interesting point that you mentioned: “Ree chooses not to reveal negativity”. I have thought a lot about that and asked many times: do food bloggers have to be funny and entertaining in order to become popular? recently I have chosen to be more personal and changed tone on my blog. I want to focus on the emotional side of food, it’s a more seriuos tone sometimes, not always a happy one, but I try to make it with a good ending, or an inspiring one at least. We’ll see how that works.

    And to those above who say veggies are not sexy, did you watch any of PETA’s videos? It’ll knock your socks off. Literally.

  5. says

    Someone above used the term ‘blogging machine’ – and aside from the fact that we’re talking about a human being, I’d have to agree with that in terms of this particular blog and person. But any blog must be a ‘blogging machine’ to get the sort of numbers this one does. It’s not just voice alone, it is an amazingly constructed formulae that works for public consumption. The blog is easily edible and leaves one happily full but not too much so.

    There does still seem to be a nature-of-the-beast difference between blogging and writing-as-literature. The books that win the top prizes and admiration of the world of lit certainly do not require a voice that is perky, believing in the good of all natural things, and friendly at the same time. Rather the opposite, quite often.

    But in terms of capturing the beast that is blogging, that sort of voice does wonders if one is looking for serious numbers. 1. Keep it simple. 2. Keep it short but not too short. 3. Have a life that seems different than the norm yet close enough to not be alienating to the general reader. 4. Friendly perkiness helps a lot. 5. Personal touch displayed in graphic material.

    Ree’s combination of her personal happiness displayed combined with the idea of being a pioneer woman (great title, we’ve all heard of pioneer women and have probably all wanted to feel like one at one time or another in our lives) plus how she simplifies to the very simplest level the idea of learning to cook, is simply a brilliant mix.

    Did all pioneer women have the same experience in their lives as displayed in this blog? I rather think not. But we live in an MTV world and we so lust for pretty things, stripped of difficulties.

  6. says

    Ree appeals to me because she’s comes across as authentic, gracious, generous, and humble. I wish her all the success in the world.

  7. says

    I was at the panel discussion and found her voice to be such an expression of her whole presence … the lesson I came away with was to try to find a voice that really fits your personality, not someone you think you should be or others want you to be. That panel had direct impact on my blog and my more recent postings already show signs of it.

  8. says

    I wish I could have been there to hear the panel. I would have enjoyed it very much. Next time you are involved please post it early so that we can all attend.
    Happy Holidays