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This woman bakes recipes she finds on gravestone epitaphs: ‘They’re to die for’

Rosie Grant recorded the baking process and posted it on TikTok, “and it exploded,” she said

Rosie Grant, 33, visiting Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson’s grave at a cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y. Grant made Miller-Dawson's spritz cookie recipe, which is written on her gravestone. (Courtesy of Rosie Grant)

The first time Rosie Grant baked a recipe she found etched on a stranger’s gravestone, she made a batch of spritz cookies.

From her kitchen in Takoma Park, Md., Grant mixed the batter in a big bowl. There were no instructions to follow, only a list of simple ingredients: butter, sugar, vanilla, an egg, flour, baking powder and salt. The cookies were heavenly.

Since her initial foray into baking that gravestone recipe a year ago, she has made several other recipes she found in cemeteries across the country. Baking delicacies by the deceased has become somewhat of a hobby for Grant. It’s unusual, to be sure, but fulfilling.

“Cooking these recipes has shown me an alternative side to death,” said Grant, 33. “It is a way to memorialize someone and celebrate their life.”

Before she stumbled upon her first recipe, she had never heard of cooking instructions on graves. It is not a commonplace sentiment for a headstone, she said, but there are certainly a sprinkling of them out there. And once she got a taste, she made it her mission to find more.

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When she baked the spritz cookies last October, Grant had recently wrapped up an internship at Congressional Cemetery in D.C. — as part of her coursework for a master of library and information sciences degree at the University of Maryland, from which she graduated earlier this year.

In one of her classes, Grant was instructed to start a social media account. Her professor suggested she use her new TikTok profile to document her cemetery internship. She liked the idea, and decided to call her account “ghostly archive.”

At the time, “I was very new to the cemetery world,” she said, adding that her initial posts included one detailing the five things she learned on the first day of her internship, and another highlighting Congressional Cemetery’s LGBTQ section.

“It was the best internship,” said Grant. “I never would have expected to enjoy it this much.”

Once the internship ended, she continued chronicling cemetery content on her TikTok account. She quickly realized she was not the only one with a graveyard fascination.

“I discovered cemetery TikTok, which is its own gigantic niche,” said Grant, explaining that she unearthed countless cemetery-themed accounts. “They call themselves ‘taphophiles’ ” — a person with a passion for cemeteries, funerals and gravestones.

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As a new taphophile herself, Grant spent much of her spare time surfing the web for cemetery stories. Her searches led her to an Atlas Obscura post about Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson’s spritz cookie recipe, etched onto her gravestone in Brooklyn, N.Y. The “lighthearted gravestone epitaph is a tip of the hat to life’s simple joys,” read the post.

Grant was intrigued.

“What a cool gift she put on her gravestone,” Grant remembered thinking. “I’ll try making it.”

She recorded the baking process and posted it on TikTok, “and it exploded,” she said.

She ended her TikTok with: “They’re to die for.”

Grant began searching for more gravestone recipes, and “I learned that there were several others,” she said, adding that she found a few in the United States, and two in Israel. “In North America, all of them have been women, and all but one have been desserts.”

She has spent the past year scouring for gravestone recipes online and baking them all. The second one she made was Martha Kathryn “Kay” Kirkham Andrews’s famous fudge — the recipe is engraved on a headstone in Logan, Utah. Grant shared a video of her fudge-making process on TikTok, and Andrews’s family came across it.

“I think she would find it very heartwarming that her fudge recipe is living on,” said Natalie Andrews, Kay Andrews’s D.C.-based granddaughter. “My grandma would have been so delighted by it.”

Andrews described her grandmother — who died at age 97 — as “the most joyful, loving person,” and “a real grandma.”

She always carried Tootsie Rolls in her purse to offer around, her granddaughter said, and she loved to cook and bake. She often delivered homemade treats to people’s homes.

“Fudge was her signature gift,” Andrews said. “She liked to give.”

“Food,” she continued, “is really how she showed her love.”

It was her grandmother’s idea to engrave the recipe on her own gravestone, which she shares with her husband, Wade, who died in 2000. Kay Andrews — who died in 2019 — had the recipe etched and installed after her husband died, giving her nearly two decades to watch as strangers stumbled upon her shared stone and made her beloved fudge.

“She was able to see it become popular. She got a real kick out of it,” Andrews said. The gravestone recipe “matched her sense of humor, and her wanting to give to other people.”

Kay’s fudge is one of 11 gravestone recipes that Grant has made and mastered so far. She has baked Christmas cookies, no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, date and nut bread, nut rolls, yeast cake, peach cobbler, snickerdoodle cookies, blueberry pie and cheese dip.

She now ends her TikToks with: “Another recipe to die for.” She is on a perpetual hunt for more epitaph dishes.

“There are more out there, and I will continue searching for them,” Grant said.

According to Loren Rhoads, a lecturer on cemetery history, and the author of “Death’s Garden Revisited,” gravestone recipes are relatively rare.

“In all the cemeteries I’ve seen, I’ve never seen a gravestone with a recipe on it,” said Rhoads, adding that she’s visited “hundreds of graveyards.”

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It’s a charming concept, especially since, “in the Victorian era, sometimes women didn’t even get their own names on their gravestone,” Rhoads said. “Seeing women reclaim this now, or seeing families reclaim this for their matriarch, I think it’s really cool.”

Recipe epitaphs actually make a lot of sense, Rhoads said, given the tie between food and death. In times of sadness and grief, food serves as a comfort and source of nostalgia.

In her experience making gravestone recipes, Grant has noticed the same link.

“There is this connection with food and death,” said Grant, adding that she lost both her grandmothers during the pandemic, and whenever she eats a meal that they once made for her, “it brings me that much closer to them.”

“Food is this weird entryway to talking about harder topics like death. We don’t want to think about our own mortality, but through talking about food and memorializing, it’s a little more palatable,” said Grant, who works as a librarian, and recently moved to Los Angeles. “I am extremely uncomfortable with death. This whole process has been a way for me to grapple with these harder topics.”

Grant has made recipes from gravestones in New York, Iowa, Alaska, Louisiana, California, Utah, Washington and Israel. Beyond making the recipes, she also hopes to visit the graves of all the people whose final resting place is under their favorite ingredients. So far, she has made it to three — including Kay Andrews’s in Utah.

“My goal is to go to all of them,” she said. “I would love to cook the recipe and taste it at their graveside as a cheers to this person who gave this gift to me and to everybody else.”