Meet the faculty: Associate professor has a taste for history

Meet the faculty: Associate professor has a taste for history

Opperman works on the cookbook at home with her daughter, Isabel.
Opperman works on the cookbook at home with her daughter, Isabel.
D r. Stephanie Opperman is working on a cookbook that envelops her love of history and its connection with food—while easing the pangs of isolation during COVID-19.

Called “Comfort Food,” the book is filled with 140 foods and beverages from Opperman’s family and friends. Recipes come from the halls of campus and streets of Milledgeville, as well as multiple states and one international site. 

The only criteria given was submitters had to have cooked the food before and liked it. 

I appreciate the significance of comfort food in this historical moment of isolation and social change.
– Dr. Stephanie Opperman
“I appreciate the significance of comfort food in this historical moment of isolation and social change,” said Opperman, an associate professor of history, who is part of the university’s new Foodways certificate program which examines history through food and cooking processes. 

“Having the program in mind for my classes undoubtedly helped me formulate the idea for this cookbook,” she said. “The cookbook also definitely grew out of feeling isolated during COVID. It was a chance to stay connected to friends and family I was missing without asking too much of them.”

Opperman’s interest in history grew as an undergraduate at Auburn University in Alabama, where she studied every corner of the world. This led to her specializing in Latin American history for her master’s at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She did postdoctoral teaching at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, before coming to Georgia College in 2013. She appreciates the small campus and city, which allow her to get to know each student personally.

Travel magnets on Opperman's refrigerator.
Travel magnets on Opperman's refrigerator.
Opperman grew up in Georgia. Her travels and research sharpened Opperman’s passion for the Southeast—its people, places and cultures. She loves sharing historical stories of the region with her students. One of five world history faculty, Opperman is preparing a new Foodways course for fall 2021, called “Mesoamerican Foodways.” 

While sheltering-in-place like the rest of the world, Opperman was inspired by a New York Times article, “The Community Cookbook is Reborn for a Time of Scarcity and Sharing.” It showed how recipe swapping fosters a “sense of community in the midst of social isolation.” Opperman felt she could do this, too, and set about collecting recipes.

Cover of Opperman's cookbook.
Cover of Opperman's cookbook.
Half the cookbook consists of cuisine from Georgia College faculty and Milledgeville residents. Others come from Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There’s even several recipes from Thailand. One’s called, “Pad Mama Gaprow’s Bacon.” 

Many people submitted more than one recipe. The book’s divided into sections: brunch, snacks, cocktails, salads, soups/stews, meat/seafood, vegetarian meals, side dishes, desserts and chocolate treats. Most categories offer eight to 25 recipes.

The youngest chef is a 3-year-old who, with his mom’s help, submitted “Ivan’s Lunch Sandwich”—a peanut butter and jelly concoction with tomatoes and lettuce. The most unusual recipe comes from Opperman’s mother-in-law from the 1950s for “Lime Jell-O Cottage Cheese Cucumber Surprise.” Her most memorable is “Pop-Tarts for Stephanie”—filled with fig jam—created by good friend and Georgia College Art Professor Sandra Trujillo after Opperman’s daughter, Isabel, was born. 

Comfort is definitely the key word, as we all try our best to deal with the pandemic.
– Opperman
The most submissions were for the ultimate comfort food: brownies. During isolation, many people crave chocolate, Opperman discovered. They’re also returning to old-time cooking, using recipes from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Dishes like chicken pot pie, blackberry cobbler, banana bread and cheese straws.

“Comfort is definitely the key word, as we all try our best to deal with the pandemic,” she said.

The book will be completed by the end of July. It’s being put together with images from historical cookbooks. Opperman particularly loves using photos of handwritten recipes—giving food that antique quality, making it more “meaningful and personal.”

She plans to use the cookbook in her Foodways courses this year, an example of how people collect and present recipes. 

I would love for the cookbook to serve as a small artifact of community in this unprecedented time. It’s a fun way to preserve traditions, create new ones and build/sustain community.
– Dr. Stephanie Opperman

The cookbook will be finished July 31st and available online. To obtain a free PDF copy, please email Opperman at stephanie@opperman.net.