“Cooking recipes I found on gravestones and sharing the process came out of my three quarantine hobbies: cooking, TikTok, and cemeteries.
I started a graduate program at the University of Maryland in 2020 and took a class about social media networks. The professor had students create new accounts on platforms like TikTok and told us to pick a topic to focus on. That same summer I was interning in the archives at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, so I decided to make my new account about the experience.
This happened during a time when I couldn’t easily see my friends and family in person. I wanted a break from doom-scrolling, so I started going on long walks every day. Through the internship, I realized cemeteries were amazing places to visit while social distancing. Garden cemeteries were among the first American public parks, and many cemeteries like Congressional encourage visitors.
Before the internship, I also hadn’t realized how many cemeteries are at risk of being developed over. It was through social media I learned a lot of ‘taphophiles’ are interested in learning and telling the histories of graves in order to connect them with local communities. The more people know about a place, the more they care about protecting it.
In two months, I suddenly found myself in an amazing community of cemetery lovers, and so I decided to continue exploring them even after the internship and class ended. Originally I focused on Washington, DC graves, and through following the #gravetok hashtag, I realized the variety of ways people are memorialized after they die.
In the olden days, you might get a slab of granite with your name, death and birth dates, and maybe a death-related icon or Biblical quote. Nowadays, there’s no limit to what you can put on a grave marker. I’ve seen life-size statues of the deceased, graves with text like ‘Cat Lover,’ people’s sexual orientation, their work resume, or cheeky quotes (a favorite being an engraving ‘I Told You I Was Sick’).
This is how I came across gravestone recipes. I first saw one on Atlas Obscura (a grave in Brooklyn, New York) for Naomi Miller-Dawson’s spritz cookies. I thought it was so cool to see someone offer a treasured family recipe as a final gift to the world. It wasn’t just an engraving saying she was known for her cookies, but the ingredients laid out with measurements. To me, it felt inviting. As if to say, ‘Here, you try.’
At the beginning of quarantine, I, like many people, had a lot of free time while at home. So in addition to going on more walks, I also started learning how to cook. In that season of looking for new recipes, I found Naomi’s grave. Since she even went through the trouble to offer the ingredients on her stone, I figured I had to try it.
Baking spritz cookies opened the door to discovering and trying other grave recipes from around the world. Finding through online searches, I next cooked Kay Andrew’s fudge recipe from Utah, Maxine Menster’s Christmas cookies from Iowa, and Ida Kleinman’s nut rolls from Israel. Each time I tried a recipe, I’d post about the process on TikTok and get tips and feedback from people.
I made many mistakes in the process as not all the graves offered detailed instructions. I didn’t know spritz cookies require a spritz cookie cutter, so my cookies don’t have the elegant shape Naomi’s would have had. The fudge I made looked soupy even after leaving it in the freezer for three days. I also couldn’t find Turkish delight to roll into Ida’s baked roll the way the recipe instructed.
Still, making mistakes felt like part of the process of connecting over a recipe. People on TikTok would share how their grandmothers made a similar dish or even what recipe they’d want on their own grave. Our exchanges reminded me of my grandmother, who passed away in 2020 from COVID, and how she taught me how to cook simple ingredients like eggs when I was a kid.
Grandma Kay didn’t believe a dish had to be perfect or complicated. It was more important to connect over a meal. She wasn’t an extravagant cook herself—enjoying the same scrambled eggs, toast, coffee, and orange juice for breakfast every morning for years. But the meal came alive when we worked together to crack the eggs over a pan, set the plates on a table, and tell stories over a second mug of coffee. I miss her and think of her every time I cook through one of these grave recipes.
Exploring cemeteries through TikTok has been an awakening to a previously taboo topic. I’ve always been afraid of dying, and even as a kid I worried about how I wanted to be remembered. In a weird way, it’s been therapeutic to now spend so much time thinking about people who have passed. We’ll all die someday and I find this absurd to wrap my head around.
Visiting cemeteries allowed me to face this truth and even embrace how I want to live my life. A common theme I’ve noticed in cooking through these gravestone recipes is they all happened to be desserts. I can’t help but take away the message, ‘We’re all going to die one day. You might as well enjoy something sweet.’
My family now talks more comfortably about how each of us wants to be remembered, ideas for gravestones, and even which cemetery we’d like to someday be laid to rest in. It’s gotten us to reframe thinking about death as an inevitable tragedy to more of a celebration of someone’s life. Life is short while being full of precious moments, and this experience reminds me to enjoy the present in order to be less afraid of what lies ahead.
I haven’t decided what I want on my own gravestone yet, but I love the idea of offering a recipe for cemetery visitors to try. Maybe I’ll include the instructions for my favorite breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, a cup of coffee, and laughing over a good story with someone.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rosie Grant from Washington DC. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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