St. Petersburg writer Tracey Enerson Wood comes from a family steeped in military tradition. A member of a multigenerational military family and an active-duty military spouse for thirty years, Wood decided to use her writing talent to honor veterans in a unique way – by chronicling their tales in a cookbook. “I thought about how our family enjoyed getting together around the dinner table and telling stories over a meal,” she says. “Then I thought about all the stories that would fade away if they weren’t documented, and I decided that’s what I needed to do.” The result is Homefront Cooking: Recipes, Wit and Wisdom from American Veterans and Their Loved Ones, a cookbook Wood describes as “a little piece of American history.”
Wood came to Florida from Alaska in 2011. “It was paradise,” she says. “After eight years in Alaska, I was ready to thaw out on the beach.” The retired registered nurse was also ready to pursue her more creative side. She studied interior design and started her own business. She also decided to try her hand at writing.
“I always enjoyed writing,” Wood says. “I wrote some columns for trade magazines and a few short stories. I also wrote a play. Seeing my work on the stage was the most thrilling thing ever.” After taking two years of writing courses, she wrote a screenplay. “It was a big, splashy historical. I was told that it would be too expensive to produce as a movie, so it was suggested that I write it as a novel.” So she spent another two years learning how to write a novel. The result was A Bridge Between Us, a historical fiction based on the woman who got the Brooklyn Bridge built. “I like to write about women who are little known in history,” she says.
When Wood couldn’t find a publisher for her novel, she decided to try something completely different. “I wanted to write something that people could use now,” she says. “Most writers are more introverted. I’m not. The long hours in isolation are hard for me. It takes a tremendous amount of time, dedication and discipline to do good work. I’d rather be out playing.”
So Wood began collecting stories from veterans and their families to create a cookbook/memoir that spans from the Civil War through today’s battlefields in the Middle East. “The biggest challenge was getting recalcitrant veterans to share their stories,” Woods admits. But she persevered and found a publisher (Skyhorse) that was enthusiastic about the project. Homefront Cooking, released in May 2018, is a handsome volume that would be equally at home on a kitchen table or coffee table. It contains more than 70 treasured family recipes ranging from such all-American dishes as Pensacola Navy Crab Croquettes and Army Chicken Rice to more exotic fare like Bibimbap and Kabuli Pulao. The stories accompanying each recipe are delightful. Some will bring a chuckle, others a tear or two, but all radiate with the warmth and authenticity of a story told around the family table. "What I like best about the book is the flexibility it gives the reader," Wood says. "You can have a great read in five minutes or read the whole book in a couple of hours. The stories are all tied together by food, family, and military life."
Wood is very pleased with the public response to Homefront Cooking. In fact, the project caught the attention of celebrity chef Robert Irvine who contributed his personal recipe for Braised Beef Shortribs. And in order to pay it forward, Wood is donating a portion of the proceeds from Homefront Cooking to the Robert Irvine Foundation, an organization that supports military personnel and first responders.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Wood plans to continue working on her novel and is also considering plans for Homefront Cooking 2 which may focus on regional recipes. “I want readers to learn something, maybe a little piece of history they didn’t know, or find a favorite recipe or a story they find meaningful,” Wood says. “I also hope readers will come away with a sense of pride in being an American and a feeling of love and respect for our veterans.”