As It Happens

How making recipes etched on gravestones changed this student's perspective on death

Rosie Grant says she wishes she could throw a dinner party for all the women whose cherished recipes she has prepared.

Rosie Grant, who is studying to become an archivist, documents her creations on TikTok

Rosie Grant makes recipes etched onto gravestones, like these jam-filled nut rolls from a headstone in Israel. (Submitted by Rosie Grant)

Rosie Grant says she wishes she could throw a dinner party for all the women whose cherished recipes she has prepared.

But she'll never meet any of them, because she found their recipes etched on their gravestones.

"They also are wonderful, very giving people. They all love to cook. They all had a signature dish that they would bring to family gatherings," Grant told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"I mean, even literally their last testament to the world is the gift of a recipe."

'A lively activity'

Grant is a University of Maryland graduate student who cooks recipes preserved on gravestones around the U.S. and the world, and documents the process on her TikTok account, @ghostlyarchive.

She's studying to be an archivist, and said she came up with the idea during the pandemic lockdowns while she was interning at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

She started taking regular walks around the cemetery, she said, taking note of what kinds of things people had etched on their gravestones and how it reflected what was important to them and their loved ones.

Grant, who is studying to be an archivist, likes to wander graveyards and observe what's written on the gravestones. (Submitted by Rosie Grant)

Then she did some digging online and learned that some people leave recipes on their gravestones — a practice she had no idea existed.

"At first I was like, why would someone 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 — walking, cooking and making TikTok videos. 

"It feels, very honestly, like a lively activity considering it's on a gravestone," 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.

All of them, she says, were on the gravestones of women, and so far, they've all been desserts.

She made "Kay's fudge," the favourite recipe of the late Kathryn Andrews, who asked her family to include it on her gravestone in Logan, Utah, after she died in 2019.

She also made Naomi Miller-Dawson's recipe for spritz cookies, found on the 87-year-old's grave in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.

But her personal favourite so far, she says, were Ida Kleinman's nut rolls. While many gravestone recipes list only ingredients, Kleinman's recipe is written in elaborate detail — instructions and all — on her grave in Rehovot, Israel. Grant had to translate it from Hebrew. 

Personal connection

Grant says the project has changed her relationship with death. She felt the effects of that change this week when she attended the funeral for her 97-year-old grandmother, after whom she was named. 

"I personally have always been very afraid of death … and I've thought of the funeral necessarily as this, like, end of days and, you know, just a very sombre time. And I think cooking through these recipes has changed my perspective a lot," she said.

"It's still a sombre 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 celebration side of things."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Rosie Grant produced by Aloysius Wong.

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