Over the past year, I’ve covered nearly 20 fans who have created some lovely Outlander-inspired products, in my Outlanderpreneur articles. Today, I’d like to introduce you to another Outlanderpreneur and a very exciting new item – Theresa Carle-Sanders and the soon-to-be-published Outlander Kitchen cookbook! I’m not the only one that’s impressed – when contacted for this article, Diana Gabaldon said, “I’m always amazed at the talent and skill – to say nothing of the staggering variety – of the people who’ve been inspired by Outlander. Theresa’s fabulous cookbook is one of the most striking inspirations I’ve seen; absolutely wonderful recipes and commentary, and mouthwatering photos!”
You may be familiar with Theresa and her Outlander Kitchen website. During the show’s first season, she created a special menu for each episode that was publicized by Starz – menus that included Homemade Crowdie Cheese for Ep. 105, Rent; Scottish Tablet for Ep. 106, The Garrison Commander; and so much more! Now Theresa, with Diana Gabaldon’s full blessing and participation (Diana wrote a lovely foreword for the book – “Food disappears all the time…” – and will host a premiere party at the Poisoned Pen bookstore), has produced a beautiful, mouthwatering cookbook full of more than 100 fabulous recipes inspired by Outlander. Theresa chatted with me about her new cookbook and the long journey she’s taken to get to this point.
Interested in food from a young age, she had plans to enter culinary school, but took some time traveling through Europe and Southeast Asia. When she returned, she gave up those dreams and entered the business world. But, she says, “they weren’t jobs that spoke to my soul at all.” In 2008, after a particularly difficult day, and with the support of her husband, Howard, she decided to quit and figure out what it was that she wanted. She attended a silent retreat in Maine. “It was probably day 4 or 5, so we hadn’t been speaking,” she said, “we hadn’t even been giving eye contact to each other. So your mind really turns in on itself. It was a quiet moment, but a very powerful moment, and it took place literally in an instant. The whole world changed, and I don’t really know why, but that ‘food’ came up again. I had blocked it off for many many many years. In that quiet moment right there, I don’t remember asking myself what I wanted, but the universe answered, and it answered with ‘food.’ Sometimes it’s a really complex message the universe sends you, and sometimes it’s a really simple one.”
She returned to her home on Pender Island in Canada, and immediately enrolled in culinary school. “I think the goal at the time was a very standard one – to get my culinary education, and then start working in restaurants. Everybody who loves food thinks they want to own a restaurant. And I think that’s what I thought. In fact, I came very close to buying one here on Pender. And I’m really glad I didn’t because it’s not a good fit for me. Restaurants take 24 hours a day, seven days a week for at least 5 or 6 years to get going,” she says, and after a couple of years working in restaurants, she decided that wasn’t the direction she wanted to go in. It took another quiet moment to point her in the right one.
“I had started reading Outlander in 2001, so I had already reread it several times by this point (2010). I was out walking in the woods, and I’ve now learned from that silent retreat and walks in the woods that I seem to connect with nature, and my mind seems to still. I was on a walk in the woods with the dog, and pigeon rolls with truffles from Voyager popped up in my mind. They’re served in Mme. Jeanne’s just after they pull Ian from the fire. And again, it was a really vivid picture of these rolls, and by the time I got home, I had decided I was going to make those rolls, and I had a recipe and I had a 5-question interview for Diana that was food-focused.” She contacted Diana, who responded the next day, and said “go for it!” She gave Theresa permission to use excerpts from the books, and offered to share her recipe over her social media platforms. “I was asking her about a cookbook, and she was concerned that although her audience was really big, it wasn’t big enough to justify a cookbook. So I decided to start a blog. I started Outlander Kitchen to prove that there was an audience big enough for a cookbook.”
Theresa had extraordinarily good timing. “Certainly when you’re following a dream there’s always a bit of luck involved, and I would say that my particular piece of luck was that they decided to make a TV show out of it, and they decided to do it at about the same time. They were working on it at the time I was starting Outlander Kitchen, and Diana had known all about it, and she couldn’t share anything with me, but she kept pushing me along saying ‘that’s a good idea, keep doing that,’ giving me little bits of support and encouragement without really giving the plot away.”
I met Theresa briefly (she doesn’t recall it, and that’s not at all a surprise) at my own first Outlander event, the Random House debut of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood in Seattle in June 2014. The next month, she convinced her husband that it was “vitally important” to get to San Diego for the show’s premiere at ComicCon. She had prepared five suggested menus for premiere parties, and “I promised myself, as well as him, that I would make one contact while I was down there. And I’m not the type of person to do that – I’m quite gregarious in an interview situation, but I’m really an introvert. And I don’t like promoting myself. I made myself walk over to three Starz people while we were standing in line to get into the theater, and I talked to a young guy, and he just happened to be the head of Starz’ social media. I picked a good one.” About a week later, she got an email asking if she wanted to do a featured recipe for each week that the network would share across social media. “Which is where my incredible social media numbers come from. Most of those were built up in that first season of Outlander when Starz was sharing everything. Sometimes my count – one day I remember it went up by about 3,500 people on Facebook. Within about 2 hours. I literally just sat there and kept pressing refresh on my keyboard, and kept watching the numbers go up and up and up. And one week my server crashed on the blog. I had to pay for a way bigger hosting contract. It was awesome. It was so awesome. It was incredible. And I owe a lot of my audience, originally to Diana, but secondarily to Starz for sure.” (Starz is no longer sharing the weekly recipes, but Theresa tries to do at least one recipe for each episode, available on her website.)
What was the leap from recipes to cookbook? “A cookbook is just a collection of recipes. And once you get enough recipes, then you automatically start thinking of a cookbook. I was told very early on that there would never be another Julia Child, there would never be another unknown cookbook author, that you had to have a platform, you had to be known, and you had to sell those books before a publisher would take you on. And that’s where another little piece of this puzzle that I’ve created comes into play, and that’s that Diana is my star. I’ve hooked myself to Diana, and I’ve hooked myself to Outlander, and I wouldn’t have a cookbook if I hadn’t.” Diana’s name is larger than Theresa’s on the book’s cover, and that’s just fine with her, she says. “Everybody asks if I have a problem with it, and I don’t have a problem at all because her name sells books. My name doesn’t do anything right now. Hopefully one day it will, but right now hers is the one that needs to be bigger. And I’m very very grateful that she’s willing to have her name on the cover.”
The book has a terrific format for Outlander lovers. Each recipe is taken from an actual food item mentioned in one of the books or is inspired by a character or situation. And each starts out with the relevant excerpt, so fans can easily place the inspiration, and read a little of our favorite book, followed by a bit of explanation from Theresa and perhaps a suggestion of complementary dishes. From the recipe for Slow-Cooked Chicken Fricassee, Theresa writes,
Murdina Bug would have loved the convenience of a slow cooker, our modern equivalent to her iron kettle over the hearth. After all, she had busy days – what with there being eggs to collect, bread to bake, stockings to knit, beer to brew, men to feed – and one less thing to keep watch over would have been a welcome reprieve.
A classic French chicken and vegetable stew with a comforting cream sauce, a traditional fricassee does not include potatoes, but with the spirit of a true one-pot meal, throw in a few anachronistic spuds with everything else.
Theresa wrote all of the little bits herself. “I didn’t do any of the writing while I was making the recipes, but I did make a lot of notes, and then it was the last few months before it was due when I basically sat down and I locked myself in the office and I did it. I’d never had to write quite that volume under a deadline. And it came easier than I thought it would. I think that had something to do though with the fact that this was a five-year project, it had been going on for so long, and I had been thinking about it for a long time, so I had all these files in my head that I could draw from. I think that’s why it was easier than I thought it would be.”
Some recipes were easier to create than others, she says. “I have a list. So when I decided I was going to start the blog, the first thing I did was go to back and read all the books again. I have a diary that has all the page numbers and the food, for every single food that is listed. Although I found one I had missed in there. And then sometimes, it’s really obvious, if it’s chicken fricassee, I did some research and looked up historical recipes, and then sort of morphed it into a more modern interpretation that’s a bit tastier to our palates, because our palates are quite different than they were 200 years ago. And also adjusting any ingredients that we don’t have any more, or substituting for something new that’s better. So those ones are pretty quick. The character inspired recipes, like Stephen Bonnet’s Salted Chocolate Pretzel Balls (the first thing Diana tasted from Theresa), or Black Jack Randall’s Lavender Fudge, those generally come up to me in a walk. They’ll come when I’m walking in the woods, and it’s kind of out of the blue, but you know, Black Jack loved lavender, and what goes well with lavender? Chocolate and lavender go really really well together. And what would be a fun thing to do? Well, fudge, of course. It’s a creative process that’s hard to explain.”
Once she had the item in mind, she had to develop the actual recipe. “I have to make the food two or three times before I’m happy with it. The one that took the longest is a new one in the cookbook, Lord John’s Upside Down Plum Cake. It should be quite an easy thing to make – I think I made it 7 times. It was just matter of getting it to bake evenly and consistently, so that everyone would have the same results, because it was a bit tricky at the beginning. But it’s also one of my favorite recipes now, because I think I worked the hardest on it.”
Theresa recruited fans to be recipe testers. “I asked people if they’d be interested in testing the cookbook – I had an enormous response, I think it was over 1,000 – and I picked 10 people from that, and I picked an awesome team. They went through and checked my recipes and my language, they made sure I’d used all the ingredients that I’d listed, and that it worked consistently, and we got really good results that way. I had some beginner cooks, some intermediate cooks, and some expert cooks, so we had a good well rounded review of it.”
Thinking that an Outlander cookbook should be historically accurate? Theresa says you wouldn’t like that at all. “I’m trying to stick to a certain historical accuracy with it, and it doesn’t work, and I have to modernize it. So some people don’t like those modern recipes. They think they want to eat like Jamie, but I have eaten like Jamie, and I’ve done it day after day after day, and I can tell you we really don’t want to eat like Jamie. We want to think we’re eating like Jamie, and we want to have fun with it, because it’s fiction, and it should be fun. It doesn’t necessarily have to be terribly serious.” What is it that we wouldn’t like? “There’s a lot of animal fat that we don’t use any more, that we don’t cook with any more, that vegetable oils have replaced. Beef tallow is very strong tasting, and to be honest, most of the things were half rancid. Which means they were covered up heavily with spice. And if you’ve ever eaten heavy heavy cloves or heavy heavy nutmeg, it’s something almost alien. It’s something you choke down. And I don’t think that’s what we want to do. We want to have the flavor of cloves, and the flavor of nutmeg, and maybe a little cinnamon in there, and some sugar, sugar is lovely, but sugar was really expensive back then. And it started to get cheaper at the end of the 18th century, so at Lallybroch, Jenny would have had sugar, she wouldn’t have had a lot of it, but none of the crofters would have had it, they would have been lucky if they had a little bit of honey that they traded for sometimes throughout the year. So we’re used to sweeter food now, and we’re used to milder tasting food. I think that’s the big difference.”
Theresa thinks her favorite recipe from the book is her adaptation of Drunken Mock-Turtle Soup. “That’s another one that took me a few tries to get. And it’s not turtle soup – turtle soup is again something that not many of us would want to eat. Some for ethical reasons. This is just a really nice meaty broth, it takes a long time to prepare, there’s a lot of love that goes into it, but that’s one of those things that I imagine if there’s an Outlander potluck or feast somewhere, that someone in that party will go to the trouble to make that soup. Because it’s just such an iconic dish in Outlander. And I put a whole bottle of sherry in there, and it really livens up a party.”
The photos in the book are equally mouthwatering. Rebecca Wellman, a Canadian photographer, took all the photos after making all the recipes in the book. “I’m over here on the west coast, on Pender Island in Canada, and my agent is in LA, and Random House is in New York. All I could think was, oh my gosh, I have to travel to New York or LA and make all these dishes, and we’d have to take one photo after another with all these dishes, and it’s not going to be good. So I typed in ‘food photographer in Victoria,’ which is about a 40 minute ferry ride for me, and three names came up. I sent them all an email asking if they had ever heard of Outlander, and Rebecca got back to me in less than 45 minutes. She was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been reading these books for 10 years.’ And her photos were beautiful. She did a little sample portfolio that I could show Random House and my agent, and convince them that this was the way we wanted to go, and they were all super impressed with Rebecca. But she also did all the cooking and all the food styling. I’m in awe of her. She’s a really talented woman, and after the first two dishes, she took my recipes and did it and styled the photos, and I thought, ‘we’re good to go,’ and she was off and running.”
Theresa doesn’t want anyone to be intimidated by the cookbook. “If you’re relatively comfortable in the kitchen, meaning that you’ve cooked dinner for yourself, for your family on a relatively regular basis, and you’ve got a relatively well-stocked pantry, then you will be able to do almost all of the recipes in the book, even the most complex one, and I would include the Drunken Mock-Turtle Soup in that. It’s quite easy to follow if you go down, read all the directions, and take it sort of step by step. I tried not to make anything too hard, and I tried not to use too many exotic ingredients that people wouldn’t be able to find in their local grocery store. Some of the soups, some of the main dish stews, they’re really easy. And they’re delicious because they’re cooked from whole foods, which a lot of people aren’t necessarily comfortable with any more. But I have tried to include simple recipes to get people to try it, get your confidence up,and then take another one out. It’s a fun book to flip through, because you’re always reading Outlander!”
Theresa says her husband has been “supportive of it from the very beginning, he’s a writer as well. But he’s a creative person and he’s pitched ideas before, and he knows the process, and he thought it was a really good idea. He’s a big Tolkien fan, so he’s been a part of a fandom for a long time, and he understands the power of fandoms, like you and I do, and how, if you have a good idea in a fandom, you can really run with it. And he noted Diana’s support of the project, which is a good sign that at least she’s into it. It took longer than both of us expected, and he couldn’t be happier, and he couldn’t be prouder of me, and I’m really really lucky. And he sounds just like Black Jack Randall, too, he can really kick my ass into gear if he needs to. He keeps me motivated.”
What will Theresa do to follow up? “Outlander Kitchen, the cookbook we have right now, only goes up through A Breath of Snow and Ashes. So all the food in Echo in the Bone and Moby, and any of her novellas or Lord John series are not included. So there is theoretically enough material for a 2nd one, if it’s wanted, and we’ll see. It’s not something I’m going to follow up with in a year, but maybe when Diana comes to the end of the series, that may be a logical place to do another one. I have another really big dream, another really big series of books that I’d like to do. It’s a big pie in the sky dream, but you never know. This was a big pie in the sky dream when I started, so you never know.”
Excited? Theresa and Random House have graciously offered two copies to give away. Enter below to win one of them (sorry, US addresses only)! Otherwise, Outlander Kitchen will be published on June 14, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other outlets. You can pre-order using this link:
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