From time to time FBC profiles people who are making an impact on Canada's food scene - from authors to producers to chefs and more. In this edition of Canada’s Tastemakers, FBC’s Ethan Adeland chats with Theresa Carle-Sanders, the author of Outlander Kitchen.
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FBC: Hi Theresa, can you start us off by introducing yourself? And where do you call home?
Theresa: I was born and raised in Vancouver. My husband Howard and I moved to a little cabin in the woods on Pender Island (between Vancouver and Victoria) in 2003 for a semi-rural life at slower speed.
FBC: For those that don’t know, what is Outlander?
Theresa: Outlander is a book series written by Diana Gabaldon. There are currently 8 books in the story; Outlander, the first, was published in 1991. The most recent, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, was released in 2014. Diana Gabaldon has said the series will most likely end with the tenth book.
It’s the story of Claire Randall, a WWII nurse, who, at the end of the war, reunites with her husband and travels to Scotland for a second honeymoon after several years apart. While visiting a stone circle in the Highlands, Claire is thrown back in time to the mid-eighteenth century.
Unable to return to her own time, Claire is caught up with a group of Highlanders, including our hero, James Fraser, who eventually marries the erstwhile time traveler in order to save her life.
The story of Claire and Jamie continues through seven more books, taking us from Scotland, to France, to the Caribbean, to the North American colonies, as well as back and forth across the timeline. It’s impeccably researched historical fiction, combined with romance, science fiction, and fantasy. Diana has created a vivid, unforgettable world that many readers, including myself, return to again and again.
FBC: You tell the story on your site and in the book of leaving work one day, throwing your phone into the water out of frustration, walking into a bookstore and discovering Outlander. Do you ever think how your life would have been different without that chance encounter?
Theresa: That event was precipitated by an encounter I had with a very unhappy customer at work. We actually had to call the police to escort him off the premises. When he was gone, and we had cleaned up the mess he made in the lobby, I took a long walk and decided that the responsible, middle-manager life wasn’t for me.
The truth is that my career had been making me desperately unhappy for years. Something would have eventually forced me to make a change, but from the happy place where I am now, I occasionally throw a silent thank you to that guy for being the match that lit my tired, bitter tinder.
FBC: So how did Outlander Kitchen come to be?
Theresa: Shortly after I quit my job, we moved to Pender. It was a spontaneous move, with no plan, and so we spent the next few years working a number of menial jobs to build a life here.
Then, after my dad died suddenly in 2007, I attended a silent retreat in Maine, where I didn’t speak or make eye contact with anyone for 7 days. A lot of things come up when you live inside your own head for a few days, and what came up for me was food.
I’ve loved food and cooking my whole life. My dad was a localvore thirty years before the Hundred-Mile Diet, and I always tagged along to pick up fresh-picked fruits and veggies, the catch of the day, or freshly baked bread from our neighbourhood bakery. A culinary career is the path I should have followed all along.
And so, at the age of thirty-eight, I moved back to Vancouver, and in with my mom temporarily, in order to attend the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. I graduated six months later at the top of my class, and returned to Pender, where I worked in local restaurants for a couple of years and began my first food blog, Island Vittles.
One day in 2010, while I was on a walk in the woods with the dog, a dish from Voyager, the third book in the Outlander series, popped into my head. Just the thought of Pigeon Rolls with Truffles made my mouth water, and by the time I was home, I had the recipe (which uses chicken thighs and porcini mushrooms) written in my head, along with an idea for a food-related interview with Diana Gabaldon.
I sent the email, including a request for permission to post a short excerpt from Voyager with the recipe on IslandVittles.com, to Diana’s Canadian publicist that very afternoon. Diana’s generous response the next day was the birth of Outlander Kitchen.
FBC: So many people often wonder and ask us, “how did you get that person to work with you or speak at your event?” And our answer is, “Well, we asked them!?
When you emailed Diana and her publisher to ask a few questions and for permission to use the pigeon roll excerpt for a recipe, did you expect a response which would lead to this post and the beginning of the journey?
Theresa: I sent that email six years ago next month, so the details are a little blurry, but I do remember being blown out of the water by Diana’s fast response. Her initial enthusiasm for the idea lit a fire under me, and continued to stoke my passion over the years.
FBC: Can you share what it’s been like to work with Diana? What type of input (if any) did she have on the cookbook, recipes, etc…
Theresa: Diana is very generous and supportive. Early on, she shared new Outlander Kitchen posts and recipes across her social media, which really helped me to grow the blog at the beginning.
She contributed a fabulous foreword to the cookbook, and also allowed me to include her father’s recipe for Cheese Enchiladas. On the other side of the coin, I’m also grateful to her for remaining hands off for the most part. She gave me her blessing, and in a great show of trust, let me get on with my vision.
For the cookbook launch in June, Diana and her local bookstore, Poisoned Pen, hosted an Outlander Kitchen Celebration in Scottsdale, Arizona. About three hundred Outlander fans travelled from all over North America to attend, and the 1200 books Diana and I signed the day before the event have all been sold from the store’s website. It will remain a highlight for me until I expire from this earth, and I will forever be thankful to Diana for allowing me to share the spotlight with her that weekend.
FBC: When the TV adaptation of Outlander was created and you were asked to create some recipes for the show, did that spark an idea for a cookbook or had that been brewing for a while and cemented that there might be interest?
Theresa: I dreamed of an Outlander cookbook almost from the very beginning, but there was some concern from Diana’s team that the sub-audience for a cookbook wouldn’t be large enough.
Those worries were put to rest in 2014, when the TV adaptation of Outlander came to the screen. Millions more fans joined Diana’s book fans, and all of a sudden, the cookbook became feasible in everyone’s eyes.
FBC: What types of challenges did you have writing a cookbook that involves time travel?
Theresa: When you’re working with historical food, you discover quickly that two hundred and fifty-year old recipes are seldom palatable by twenty-first century standards.
There are a few exceptions, like Cock-a-Leekie and Veal Patties in Wine Sauce for example; their recipes come, with minor adaptations, from eighteenth-century cookbooks.
The majority, however, require tweaking. And that’s where the element of time travel actually freed me up creatively. I brought many dishes forward in time, incorporating modern techniques and ingredients, transforming them into recipes for family favourites that fans will serve again and again.
FBC: I can also imagine another challenge was writing a cookbook for a fan-base that spans the globe. How did you approach that?
Theresa: The recipes are written from my North American perspective. That means I mostly use imperial measurements in my recipes, although because I’m Canadian, I like to sneak a few metric equivalents in there.
The most popular recipes on the blog have been translated by international fans over the years into Spanish, Italian, German, French, and even Japanese, and foreign editions of the Outlander Kitchen Cookbook are currently being produced by a Polish and a German publisher.
FBC: Speaking of fans, were you concerned about doing their beloved Outlander justice?
Theresa: Outlander has been a very big part of my life for years, even before Outlander Kitchen. I’ve read the books many times, and I know the story inside and out. Diana has expressed her pleasure, hilarity, and appreciation for my work regularly over the years, so I’ve always felt pretty secure that I’m doing things right.
The fans have also been supportive and overwhelmingly positive over the years. Of course, not everyone loves everything I do, but for the most part, fan response to the cookbook has been very, very good.
FBC: Were you able to sprinkle any Canadian ingredients or flare into the cookbook?
Theresa: Outlander Kitchen is a from-scratch cookbook, so there’s always opportunities to utilize local/seasonal ingredients. Cullen Skink, for example, is a light fish chowder that traditionally uses Finnan haddie, a peat-smoked haddock caught off the north-east coast of Scotland. While you can buy Finnan haddie online, I prefer to use local cod or halibut that I smoke here at home.
FBC: Is there a recipe readers have truly connected with?
Theresa: There are a number of highly charged, emotional scenes in the series that include food. Just like in real life, Diana’s characters often share their loves, trials, and tribulations at the table.
Probably the most anticipated recipe in the series is for the Drunken Turtle Soup that Jamie feeds to an injured Claire aboard a ship in Voyager. The ship’s cook incorporates a full bottle of sherry into the pot for medicinal purposes, which leads to a rather amorous conclusion to the scene.
My version includes the full bottle of sherry, but replaces the turtle with more accessible oxtail, and includes a few drops of Vietnamese fish sauce to round out the flavor. Think of it as an Outlander-inspired Pho.
FBC: What are some of your favourites?
Theresa: Lord John’s Upside Down Plum Cake is a recipe I had a bit of trouble with. I believe it took me 8 attempts to get it right, which is a record in my kitchen. The finished version is a visually stunning and deliciously moist cake that I’m very proud of.
Other favourites include a Coddled Egg for Duncan, which reminds me of cooking breakfast with my Dad on Sunday mornings, and Peppery Oyster Stew, which is recipe written by my friend, Lori Zachary of Baton Rouge. Lori is also a trained chef and bookworm who introduced herself to me on the Outlander Kitchen page five years ago, offering her assistance as a tester. She has cooked almost as many Outlander dishes as I have, and I cherish the close friendship that has developed between us.
FBC: What is next for you? Outlander or non-Outlander-related?
Theresa: I’ve got two projects that I’m ramping up to pursue. Neither is related to Outlander, but there is room in the future, and more food in the books, for a second Outlander Kitchen cookbook somewhere down the road!
FBC: Describe a typical day for you…
Theresa: When I was writing the cookbook in 2015, I had a short deadline, which resulted in some grueling working hours. I often cooked 2 or 3 dishes early in each day, then retreated to my office to write them up. Most days lasted twelve to sixteen hours.
These days, as I’m dreaming up my next project, my schedule is more relaxed. My husband and I get up early, and take turns making coffee in bed for each other. We start our day together, then I take the dog for a long walk in the woods where I alternatively organize my thoughts for the day, or let them go completely, to see what’s been lurking in the creative corner of my brain recently.
This summer, I’ve spent a couple of morning hours working in the veggie garden, before heading to my office, where I work on whatever is going on: write, answer emails, do the occasional interview by phone or Skype, etc. I’m usually in my office until mid afternoon (unless the writing is going too well to stop), when I switch gears to household chores and preparing for dinner.
FBC: Can you share one Outlander Kitchen recipe with us?
Theresa: Here you go, Apple Fritters!
Roger was sweating from the exertion, his heart beating fast from the adrenaline of performance, and the air away from the fire and the crowd was cold on his flushed face. The baby’s swaddled weight felt good against him, warm and solid in the crook of his arm. He’d done well, and knew it. Let’s hope it was what Fraser wanted.
By the time Bree reappeared with a drink and a pewter plate heaped with sliced pork, apple fritters, and roast potatoes, Jamie had come into the circle of firelight, taking Roger’s place before the standing cross.
He stood tall and broad-shouldered in his best gray gentleman’s coat, kilted below in soft blue tartan, his hair loose and blazing on his shoulders, with a small warrior’s plait down one side, adorned with a single feather. Firelight glinted from the knurled gold hilt of his dirk and the brooch that held his looped plaid. He looked pleasant enough, but his manner overall was serious, intent. He made a good show -- and knew it.
The Fiery Cross (Chapter 24 - Playing with Fire)
- ¼ cup whisky or orange juice
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 1 lemon, grated
- ¼ cup sugar, plus additional
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 pound (450 grams) sweet, firm apples such as Granny Smith, Gala or Pink Lady (2 or 3 medium)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- In a medium bowl, mix together the whisky, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, vanilla and ground ginger.
- Peel and core the apples. Chop into ½-inch pieces and toss in the whisky mixture. Marinate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Drain the apples, reserving the marinade. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter and ½ cup of the marinade juice to make a pancake-like batter. Stir the apples into the batter, mixing well to ensure good distribution.
- In a large saucepan, heat 2 or 3-inches of vegetable oil to 350°F over medium-high heat.
- Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes depending on the size. Do not crowd the pan. Drain on paper towels.
- Sprinkle more sugar on top and serve warm.
FBC: Any final words?
Theresa: Thank you for this opportunity!
FBC: Thanks for your time!