The Longstanding Trend Of Etching Recipes On Gravestones

While special events and traditions like Día de los Muertos and All Saints Day make time for families to remember and celebrate the lives of those who've passed, there may be no better way to honor the dead than to keep their memory alive every day. Favorite meals prepared by loved ones make indelible marks on our hearts and in our memories. In fact, the loss of someone who once cooked something memorable for you can be a double loss if you never got the recipe.

When a beloved cook dies, there are those who go to great lengths to get their hands on a treasured recipe. Our love for the cook is so entangled with the recipe that did them proud that according to The Washington Post, between March 2020 and October 2021, 430 obituaries referencing casseroles were published in American newspapers and online obituary platforms and the number of obituaries published on referencing casseroles rose by 43%.

So while there are those who hold tight to their culinary secrets, swearing to take them to their grave, there are others who understand where their legacy lies — in the recipe. And while they, too may have taken their recipes to the grave, they left them there for all who visit to enjoy.

Taking the recipe to the grave

TikTok Influencer Rosie Grant (@ghostlyarchive) is one the people collecting these gravestone recipes and making them in remembrance of those who cooked before us. Grant, a University of Maryland grad student studying to be an archivist, began cooking from gravestones during the pandemic lockdown. Much like social media influencer, Maggie Mason (who found a recipe box filled with 800 recipes at a flea market and began posting one recipe each day on her Instagram @thekitchencomittee via the San Francisco Chronicle), Grant's tombstone discoveries were so interesting to followers that she was also encouraged to begin cooking and sharing the final product online. In an article for The Guardian, Grant said, "As I made more of the recipes and got more feedback from everyone, I began to understand how important cooking is for people and for family histories."

Until recently, all of the recipes had been for sweet treats. Among the recipes Grant found and made are Naomi Miller-Dawson's Spritz cookies, Kathryn "Kay" Andrews' Fudge, Connie's date and nut bread, and Margaret Davis' glazed blueberry pie. In October, Grant celebrated making her first savory gravestone recipe: red lantern cheese dip. Though Grant says, "It was so good! This disappeared quickly!!" She'll be trying it again soon, after followers pointed out she had not correctly followed the recipe instructions, using the wrong cheese and heating what is believed to be a cold dip.

Where to find gravestone recipes

While Grant is still tracking down and whipping up headstone recipes online, don't expect to find rows of gravestones covered in recipes the next time you visit the cemetery. According to photographer and author of "Stories in the Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography," Douglas Keister, "Recipes on gravestones are a relatively new phenomenon in the long history of cemetery iconography," (via The New York Times).

Even so, if you want to take your own graveyard recipe tour, Grant isn't the only one compiling recipe lists, Atlas Obscura appears to be cataloging some of them online. As have a trio of authors (Allison C. Meier, Bronwyn Hazelwood, and Claire Voon) who put together "Cooking with the Dead: A zine of tombstone recipes," for sale on Etsy. The magazine not only contains the recipe for Maxine Menster's Christmas cookies and Grandma Ida's nut cookies, it also features the trio's favorite cocktails, which they'd like to have put on their own headstones one day.

Family members of the deceased seem to take pleasure in sharing their loved one's recipes, as Menster's daughter told The New York Times, "It might spur people to talk about the good memories instead of the last memory." And that's the point really, whether you're setting out food in celebration of loved ones passed or cooking a recipe from a grave — it's the remembering that's important.