At his home in Washington, D.C., Charlie McBride often bakes his mother’s recipe for a peach cobbler. As he pours the pot over the fruit, he remembers how his mother, aunts and grandmother sat under a tree in Louisiana, gossiping about each other’s stories as they peeled peaches in the winter.
McBride loved this family recipe so much that when his mother, O’Neill Bogan Watson, died in 2005, it was excavated on her gravestone at New Ebenezer Cemetery in Castor, Louisiana, a town of about 230 people. His mother’s instructions were simple: Bake the cobbler at 350 degrees “until done.”
“It’s really just a great recipe,” said McBride, 78, a public policy advisor.
In cemeteries from Alaska to Israel, families commemorated their loved ones with recipes most cherished by the deceased carved in stone. These dishes – mostly sweets – give relatives a way to remember the sweet times, and they hope they will bring some joy to visitors who discover them among the more traditional attractions.
“You only have one chance to make one last impression,” said Douglas Kester, an illustrator and author who has written several books on tombs, including “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Tomb Symbolism and Icons.” (For his memorial, Keister plans a bench that reads “Keisters go here.”)
He said that recipes on tombstones are a relatively new phenomenon in the long history of tomb iconography. But they have found enthusiastic followers online. On her TikTok channel, @ghostlyarchive, Rosie Grant shares her tombstone recipes, drawing hundreds of thousands of views from a loyal audience fascinated by the intersection between graveyards and cooking.
“The Cemetery is an open museum,” said Grant, 32, who lives in Washington, D.C.
Kester said recent advances in tomb technology, such as lasers that can be carved directly into stone, have made it easier to leave a more personalized monument. Some of them include QR codes that lead to memorial websites.
Jonathan Modlich, owner of Modlich Monument Co., said: in Columbus, Ohio, and President of Monument Builders in North America: “We use tomb monuments as an art form.” “Our job as a memory is to capture a part of that story that can be told in future generations.”
Years before the death of Martha Catherine Kirkham Andrews, a fudge fudge recipe was added to the tombstone that she would eventually share with her husband Wade Huff Andrews. The recipe attracted so many spectators at Logan’s Utah cemetery that the area containing its plot became known as the “Fudge Section.”
She and her husband read a book about funny epitaphs and decided to make the tombstone a reflection of their lives. He chose to commemorate his life with several images on his side of the tomb, including a B-24 Liberator he flew in World War II and named Salt Lake Katie after his wife. She chose the fudge recipe that she often took to church functions, club meetings, and other meetings.
“When she did the trick, you can pretty much guarantee that she was walking out the door,” said their daughter Janice Johnson, 75, of Syracuse.
When Wade Andrews died in 2000, the monument company they hired to create the memorial dug a mistake into the recipe, calling for too much vanilla. A generation of cemetery visitors supposedly committed very bad nonsense before correcting the error after the death of Martha Andrews in 2019.
For Richard Dawson, 71, of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, the best way to recall memories of his family’s holidays is to sample the cookies made by his mother, Naomi Odessa Miller Dawson. They were also a favorite in Richard Dawson’s office, but when a co-worker once asked for the recipe, his mom said she wouldn’t give it up.
Dawson had the recipe engraved on her tombstone. “At some point, I thought she might feel like I betrayed her,” he said. “But I think she’s happy because of all the attention the tombstone has received.”
Alison C. Meyer discovered a Spritz recipe created by Naomi Dawson a few years ago while wandering the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn’s New York City borough, searching for unusual headstones for a guided tour. The open book shape of the tombstone caught her eye, and as she approached, she was surprised to see a recipe instead of a religious symbol.
This discovery inspired Meyer to co-write Zen during the pandemic on the gravestone recipes she had found. She called it “Cooking with the Dead”.
“Recipes are a beautiful way to remember people,” said Meyer, 37, who lives in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. “I still follow in their footsteps and put the ingredients together the way they did.”
In Nome, Alaska, Bonnie John Johnson was known for her stern command of the city’s Department of Motor Vehicles office and for the sweetness of unbaked oatmeal, said her daughter Julie Johnson Schitch, 52, of Fairbanks, Alaska. The recipe was recorded on Johnson’s tombstone in 2007 at the Nome City Cemetery, along with an inscription on the Cool Whip container. (I collected dozens of them).
The recipe calls for shelf-stable ingredients, like quick oats and a Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix, which are relatively easy to find when more perishable foods aren’t often available.
Even the guy who scattered snow from Johnson’s front yard “did a really good job getting those cookies,” her daughter said.
Ida Kleinman’s cookie recipe, the best known, can be found in Hebrew on her tombstone at Rehovot Cemetery in Rehovot, Israel. She stuffed the dough with ground pecans, strawberry jam, and Turkish delight, said her son Yossi Kleinmann, 65, of Rehovot.
When he goes to visit the tomb that his parents share, he loves to sit and watch the passersby. “I just want people to notice the stone,” he said, adding that he had seen some of them write down the recipe.
An early entry in the genre was the 1994 Maxine Kathleen Bobby Minster’s headstone at the Cascade Community Cemetery in Cascade, Iowa, which features a German Christmas cake recipe from her ancestors. When she was a child, Minster’s parents hung sugar cookies on her Christmas tree, said daughter Jane Minster, 66, of Bernard, Iowa.
When making cookies each December, Maxine Minster dedicates the family to different stops in the kitchen: she rolled the dough, her mother baked cookies and her kids decorated them with colorful sprinkles.
“A cemetery should not be a place of sadness,” her daughter said. “It can be a place for great memories. It might motivate people to talk about good memories rather than the last ones.”