It it all started during the lockdown. Like many people, I tried baking for the first time and got a TikTok account. Less frequently, I began to learn a great deal about cemeteries. I’m studying to be an archivist and when the pandemic started I had just started an internship at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC, one of the oldest cemeteries in the US.
Soon my interest went beyond work. During the pandemic, my local cemetery was one of the few places I could go for a daily walk, and I began to see how interesting cemeteries are as places to keep history: you can see how tombstone styles have changed over the years, how different symbols have changed to become more or less important and what kind of information people place on their tombstones. In the past it was just names and dates, genealogical stuff, but these days people like to add their hobbies or something more personal like their sexual orientation.
I read online that some people even had their favorite recipe written on their tombstone, so one day I thought why not combine all three of my new lockdown hobbies and try to bake all the tombstone recipes and post the results on TikTok?
So far I’ve only found about 10, mostly through online searches. The first one I tried was a spritz cookie that was written on a tombstone in New York. The recipe was more like a list of ingredients – a cup of margarine, an egg, a teaspoon of vanilla. I had to guess the process without really knowing what a spritz cookie was. It tasted okay, but what was even more surprising was how many people viewed my first post – there’s the Graveyard TikTok niche and the Back TikTok niche, but I was the first to bring those two audiences together. It was nice that everyone got involved and said: “My grandmother used to make this too” or the different methods her family used to prepare the recipe.
Since then I’ve made date nut breads, no-bake cookies, Christmas cookies, fudge, and many others. As I made more recipes and got more feedback from everyone, I began to understand how important cooking is to people and family stories.
My grandmother passed away from Covid and while preparing the tombstone recipes I had to think of this special yellow cake she made for us grandchildren on our birthdays. It was so good. It’s nice to think of the recipes that have a similar meaning to other families—perhaps at get-togethers and holidays they know certain dishes will appear. Cooking my family recipes again is one way to bring back those powerful memories: When I think of that cake, I remember my grandmother and all the birthdays we shared together.
Another rather mundane realization I had while preparing my grandmother’s epitaph was that it is very expensive to have words engraved on a tombstone. You pay by letter. That must be why many tombstone recipes are so sparse. The ones that turned out best for me were the more detailed ones – the latest one is like a pecan and cinnamon jam roll. You just roll it up and bake it, then slice it and add powdered sugar. The tombstone gave a detailed overview of the process which was helpful. I will definitely do that again.
Aside from cooking, I’ve loved researching the lives of the women behind the recipes – so far all the recipe tombstones I’ve found have been for women. There was a Holocaust survivor; someone who has worked in the post office all his life; and an Alaskan woman who had the logo for the Cool Whip cream faux brand engraved on her headstone.
The idea of choosing a stone is terrifying to me – I don’t know how I want the world to remember me just yet. But for these women, her recipe seemed like the perfect way to connect with their families after they left. And they wanted to share it with everyone, which is beautiful. My dream dinner party would be to bring all these women together and we would try all the recipes and get to know each other. It would be a substantial dinner, though—it’s all baking recipes, comfort food, and desserts.
As I said to Felix Bazalgette
Do you have an experience to share? Email email@example.com