A recipe for spritz cookies is etched into the gravestone of a woman named Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson, who has been buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York since she died in 2008 at 79 years old. Though the recipe only includes seven ingredients and leaves no instructions, temperature or time in the oven, the idea of the dessert appealed to Rosie Grant, a digital librarian living in the Washington, D.C. area.
“I think the spritz cookie is my favorite one to make,” Grant told TODAY Food. “They’re very pretty. They’re these cute little butter cookies.”
Grant said that last year, while studying library science at the University of Maryland, a class she was taking had her create a social media account to learn firsthand how networks work. At the same time, Grant was interning in the archives of the Congressional Cemetery in the district, eternal home to such historic figures as J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa and a whole lot of senators.
A professor suggested she combine the two parts of her studies, an idea Grant thought wouldn’t have garnered as much interest as it has now. Her TikTok account, called @ghostlyarchive, initially started as a school project and became much more over time.
Grant said that after posting videos talking about her internship and others containing cemetery facts, like on cenotaphs, which are empty graves meant to commemorate those fallen during wartime, she broadened her horizons and posted lighthearted clips containing cemetery puns and little-known items of charnel interest like the link between beekeeping and graveyards.
It was while regularly posting these videos on her TikTok that Grant discovered Miller-Dawson’s spritz cookie recipe in her research and decided to make the recipe herself.
“I’m going to start making recipes from gravestones,” reads a caption on the first TikTok video in the series, which garnered 1.3 million views. “There’s no instructions so I’m guessing a lot / if a sugar cookie and a shortbread cookie had a baby / they’re to die for.”
Grant said that she’s new to the whole baking scene — let alone baking from literal cryptic recipes forever emblazoned onto someone’s final resting place, so a lot of her viral journey has been spent troubleshooting and learning as she goes.
“I didn’t know what a spritz cookie was at first, so I cooked it kind of like a sugar cookie,” said Grant, adding that commenters on her TikTok suggested she invest in a spritz press.
“People were recommending different ways to make the cookies, so I read through all the comments to understand how to make the cookies correctly and made it again and again,” she said.
Grant had never really taken on baking as a hobby, but after such a fulfilling experience learning about Miller-Dawson’s recipe gravestone, she discovered that this type of recipe is not exactly an anomaly.
She discovered the gravesite of Kay Andrews, which has her fudge recipe engraved on a tablet in Utah. Another woman named Ida Kleinman in Israel had her signature nut rolls emblazoned on her tomb. There are so many recipes like these, and Grant plans on documenting her journey in making as many as she can.
“Just a few weeks ago, a woman reached out and her mother has a savory cheese dip recipe on her gravestone, which is so good,” Grant said, adding that she’s already cooked it once and was swiftly told by her followers that she made it incorrectly.
“I’ve gotten the ingredients to do it again, which is all part of learning how to cook,” she said.
Grant said she has made "12 or 13" of these recipes, adding that the response to her account has ranged from baking-technique talk to the celebration of the lives (and signature recipes) of late loved ones.
More often than not, folks have been looking at these unique headstones as a memorialization of the flavor-packed lives these people lived rather than a signifier of their ending.
“People will comment what they would want to put on their gravestone if they had to pick a recipe, or some people say things like, ‘Oh, snickerdoodles, my mom made it this way.’ And so there’s just this whole nostalgic connection, which has been really cool,” Grant said.
As for the experience of finding a very atypical niche in the culinary social media space, Grant said the connection of food and loss is as interconnected as life and death itself, if you think about it.
“When we’re in mourning, food is very comforting to us,” said Grant, pointing to such cultural touchstones as Texas funeral cakes and Black funeral food traditions as examples. “These recipes feel like a more tactile, all-senses-included way to remember someone rather than only using your memory. But when you’re eating grandma’s special cake or cookie or whatever it is, you feel a little bit more connected to her.”