IIt all started during lockdown. Like many people, I tried baking for the first time and got a TikTok account. More rarely, I started to learn a lot 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 United States.
Soon my interest became more than just a job. During the pandemic, my local cemetery was one of the few places I could walk daily and I started to see how interesting cemeteries are as repositories of history: you can see how the styles of Headstones have changed over the years, how different symbols have become more or less important, and also what type of information people choose to put on their headstones. In the past it was just names and dates, genealogy stuff, but nowadays people like to add their hobbies or something more personal like their sexual orientation.
I read online that some people even put their favorite recipe on their tombstone, so one day I thought, why not combine my three new lockdown hobbies and try to cook all the tombstone recipes and show the results on TikTok?
There are only about 10 so far that I have found, mostly through an online search. The first one I tried was a spritz cookie that was 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 was good, but what was most surprising was how many people saw my first post — there’s the cemetery TikTok niche and the bakery TikTok niche, but I was the first to bring those two audiences together. What was nice was everyone weighing in saying, “My grandma used to make it too” or the different ways their family made the recipe.
Since then, I’ve made date and nut bread, “no-bake” cookies, Christmas cookies, fudge, and more. As I made more recipes and got more feedback from everyone, I started to realize how important cooking is to people and to family stories.
My grandmother passed away from Covid, and doing the tombstone recipes reminded me of that special yellow cake she made for us grandchildren on our birthdays. It was so good. It’s nice to think of recipes that have similar meaning for other families – maybe at get-togethers and holidays they know certain dishes will pop up. Cooking my family recipes again is a way to rekindle those strong memories: when I think of this cake, I remember my grandmother and all the birthdays we spent together.
Another more mundane realization I had when we were preparing my grandmother’s epitaph was that it is very expensive to have words engraved on a tombstone. You pay by the letter. Which must be why many tombstone recipes are so rare. The ones that turned out the best for me are the most detailed – the newest looks like a cinnamon pecan jam roll. Just roll it up and bake it, then slice it and add powdered sugar. Tombstone shared a detailed overview of the process, which was helpful. I will definitely do this one again.
Besides learning to cook, I loved researching the lives of the women behind the recipes – so far all the tombstones with recipes I’ve found have been for women. There was a Holocaust survivor; someone who has worked in the post office all his life; and a woman in Alaska who had the logo of imitation cream brand Cool Whip engraved on her tombstone.
The idea of choosing a stone terrifies me – I don’t know yet how I want the world to remember me. But for these women, their recipe seemed like the perfect way to connect with their families after they left. And they wanted to share it with everyone, which is wonderful. My dream dinner would be to get all these women together and we would try all the recipes and get to know each other. It would be a rich dinner, though – it’s all baking recipes, comfort food, and desserts.
As said to Félix Bazalgette
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