Many memories of the beloved dead seem to be tied to food – our lost loved one’s favorite recipes, what they baked and/or cooked, what they ate, and even what they brought to gatherings, even if they did not prepare the food themselves.
At a small congregation in the California desert, a fit, active man in his 60s was known to all for never showing up to services without a dozen doughnuts from a local shop in hand — especially the jelly-filled ones that he knew his fellow worshipers loved. When he died unexpectedly earlier this summer, others began filling the gap by bringing the doughnuts to weekly services themselves. At the memorial, now in the planning stages, jelly doughnuts will almost certainly have pride of place on the menu.
Favorite recipes have been the focus of fiction as well. A short-story writer a few years back built an entire tale about a cherished gingerbread recipe thought lost during World War II, only to finally be restored to the family many decades later through the magic of the internet. Though relatively obscure, the story was sufficiently appreciated to have been published twice.
So, as the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you” – but now, perhaps more often than in the past, you can safely leave part of it behind for those who come after to enjoy, or, at least, to remember. So it is neither surprising nor shocking to learn that over the past three decades, those who believe in planning ahead may seek to avoid the possibility of the newspaper clipping, index card or flimsy onion-skin paper going missing.
A few of them even include their entire favorite recipes on their headstones.
The Popularity of Gravestone Recipes
All of these gravestone recipes discovered so far are on the markers of women and are most in relatively small towns, most east of the Mississippi, and leaning heavily toward desserts, almost as though their creators wanted to have their last memories associated with something sweet.
They include peach cobbler in Castor, Louisiana, Christmas sugar cookies in Cascade, Iowa, chocolate fudge in Logan City, Utah, spritz cookies in Brooklyn, New York, date and nut bread in Highland Mills, New York, no-bake oatmeal cookies in Nome, Alaska, and cookies stuffed with nuts and jam in Rehovot, Israel, according to the NY Times,
One relatively well-known example of a gravestone recipe was the headstone of Kay Andrews, who lived to be 97. Her locally famous fudge recipe was engraved, at her request, on a part of her tombstone. Anyone who thinks that typos are found only on paper or in pixels is mistaken. The recipe initially called for three times too much vanilla – a tablespoon rather than the intended teaspoon.
Just in case you’re wondering, yes, a new stone was created with the correct measurement.
Stone now meets cyberspace in the ongoing online project of Rosie Grant, an aspiring archivist, so she comes by her interest in history honestly. She collects graveyard recipes, creates the dishes and reports about them on social media. She is known as ghostlyarchive on Tik-Tok, where she has 95,000 followers.
She says that, far from being creepy or morbid, her hobby has opened up needed family discussions.
“Being around it and just like acknowledging it has become so much more comfortable and my family talks about it a lot more,” she told Solace, a cremation provider serving Florida, California and Oregon. “We’ve had the conversation about how do we want to be celebrated? How do we want to be memorialized? What kind of funeral do we want? It’s been very healthy for our family.”
The recipes aren’t always engraved, exactly. A writer on a genealogy website reported on a completely accidental – but welcome – find that manifested as a bright-white inset into a large, dark stone monument with scarcely any other information on it. There at Cemetery of the Highlands in Highland Mills, N.Y., was a recipe for date and nut bread, almost certainly one of the decedent’s proud legacies.
Nor is the graveyard recipe phenomenon entirely based in the United States. The Times reported this instance: “The recipe for Ida Kleinmanʼs nut roll cookies, her most popular, can be found in Hebrew on her tombstone in Rehovot Cemetery in Rehovot, Israel. Mrs. Kleinman, who was born in Romania and married a Holocaust survivor, stuffed the dough with ground pecans, strawberry jam and Turkish delight, said her son, Yossi Kleinman, 65, of Rehovot.”
And at least one person has centered an entire small publication around the concept. Allison C. Meier, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, as a pandemic project, decided to create “Cooking with the Dead.”
Sales appear relatively strong and perhaps will pick up even as the calendar heads closer to Halloween.