Rosie Grant says she wishes she could throw dinner for all the women whose beloved recipes she’s prepared.
But she will never meet them, because she found their recipes on their tombstones.
“They are also wonderful, very generous people. They all love to cook. They all had a signature dish that they would bring to family gatherings,” Grant said. As it happens guest host Helen Mann.
“I mean, even literally their last will to the world is the gift of a prescription.”
‘A lively activity’
Grant is a graduate student at the University of Maryland who cooks recipes preserved on headstones across the US and the world, documenting the process on her TikTok account, @ghostlyarchive†
She studies to be an archivist and said she got the idea during the pandemic lockdowns while doing an internship at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
She started walking around the cemetery regularly, she said, noting what kinds of things people had etched on their headstones and how it reflected what was important to them and their loved ones.
Then she did some digging on the Internet and found that some people leave recipes on their tombstones — a practice she had no idea existed.
“First I thought, why would anyone do this? And then my second thought is, I have to cook through this,” she said.
Her project combines all three of her main pandemic hobbies: hiking, cooking, and making TikTok videos.
“It feels, quite honestly, like a lively activity, considering it’s on a headstone,” she said.
So far, she’s prepared about 10 recipes, all crowdsourced online, from as close as New York City and as far away as Israel.
They were all on women’s tombstones, and until now they were all desserts.
She made “Kay’s fudge”, the favorite recipe of the late Kathryn Andrewswho asked her family to put it on her gravestone in Logan, Utah, after she passed away in 2019.
She also made Naomi Miller-Dawson’s recipe for spritz cookiesfound on the grave of the 87-year-old in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn†
But her personal favorite so far, she says, were Ida Kleinmans nut sandwiches† While many tombstone recipes only list ingredients, Kleinman’s recipe is detailed — instructions and all — written on her grave in Rehovot, Israel. Grant had to translate it from Hebrew.
Grant says the project has changed her relationship with death. She felt the effects of that change this week as she attended the funeral of her 97-year-old grandmother, after whom she was named.
“Personally, I’ve always been very afraid of death… and I’ve necessarily seen the funeral as this, the end of the day and, you know, just a really bleak time. And I think cooking with these recipes is my perspective has changed a lot,” she said.
“It’s still a gloomy time, but it’s also a reflection of the beauty of their lives, of happy memories, of getting together over a meal or cooking together. And so it really made me appreciate the festive side of things.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Rosie Grant produced by Aloysius Wong.