A Tombstone Pastry Stone Ideal for Baking

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PHOTO: GRANT PETERSON
Roll out on floured tombstone (plain side) and cut into 4-inch circles (a small saucer is helpful as a cutting guide).

Strange but true — an uncanny tale from
Kathrynn T. Windham, storyteller. Reprinted with permission from  AMERICAN COUNTRY magazine.

A Tombstone Pastry Stone Ideal for Baking

My Aunt Bet never thought there was anything unusual about
having a tombstone in her kitchen.

Now I don’t suppose Aunt Bet ever planned to have one in
her kitchen, but when she was walking home to dinner one
noon, she happened to notice a tombstone leaning against
the wall of the depot, right outside the telegrapher’s
office. Before many days had passed, that tombstone was
lying on her kitchen counter.

Aunt Bet was postmaster (she scorned the word
postmistress, considering it insulting) in
Thomasville, Alabama, and she made two round trips daily
from her house on top of the ridge down to West Front
Street, where the post office was. She went down the hill
early in the morning to open the post office, back up the
hill after dark when the mail from the southbound train had
been distributed into the rows of lock boxes in the lobby,
and she made a trip back and forth in the middle of the day
for dinner. She always walked, said it was wasteful to
drive the five blocks between home and the post office.
Besides, she pointed out, you always saw more if you
walked.

As I said, it was on her way up the hill to dinner one
noon, just as she was crossing the railroad tracks, that
she first saw the tombstone.

Aunt Bet walked over to examine the marble slab, and she
was somewhat surprised that she did not recognize the name
engraved on it. She, being postmaster and an officer in the
Eastern Star and a member of the United Daughters of the
Confederacy, knew nearly everybody in our county and most
of the folks in the counties that touched ours. The depot
was closed for dinner, so there wasn’t anybody around to
answer her questions.

She walked up the hill, wondering about the marker and
remembering its decorations: the doves, roses, acanthus
leaves, lilies, scrolls and curlicues engraved by some
unknown artisan. Aunt Bet never failed to notice and to
admire fine craftsmanship.

While we were eating dinner, Aunt Bet told about the
tombstone, and we all put our heads to thinking whose it
could be. Mother said the deceased could not have been a
Methodist, because she had never seen that name in the list
of obituaries The Methodist Christian Advocate ran
each week, and Daddy said he knew some folks by that name
down in the lower end of the county, but they were a kind
of sorry lot and he didn’t believe any of them could afford
a fancy grave marker such as the one Aunt Bet described.
There were several comments about “some poor soul lying in
an unmarked grave” before the conversation turned to other
topics.

I kept thinking about that tombstone all the time I was
waiting for my rice pudding to get cool enough to eat.
“Heat will cool if greed will wait,” Mother reminded me
when she noticed me blowing on a spoonful of the dessert.

As soon as I had finished my pudding and had been excused
from the table, I hurried down to the depot to see that
tombstone for myself. It was just like Aunt Bet had
described it, with a wreath of roses and leaves encircling
the name and dates that identified the deceased, and doves
and lilies across the top and down the sides.

I squatted down to read the inscription near the bottom.
“Not Dead But Sleeping,” it said. That inscription bothered
me. It still does. I meant to ask Daddy what those words
really meant, but when I saw him at suppertime, my mind was
on other things, and I had forgotten about the tombstone.

A few days later, Aunt Bet telephoned from the post office
to say, “Alf is bringing something up there in his dray.
Please holler to Grover down in the bottom and ask him to
come help Alf put it on the kitchen counter.” She hung up
before I could get around to asking her what Alf was
bringing.

So I walked out in the back yard and called Grover, and he
and I waited at the gate until Alf arrived in his
horse-drawn cart.

“Glad you’re here,” Alf said to Grover. “I need a strong
man to help me unload the tombstone.”

“What?” Grover asked.

“Tombstone,” Alf replied. “It’s heavy.”

Grover didn’t say anything.

Alf tied his horse to the fence, and the two men hefted the
marble slab out of the dray and toted it through the yard,
across the back porch and into the kitchen. I held the
screen door open for them. They eased the stone onto the
counter, rubbed the palms of their hands up and down on
their pants legs, sort of wiping away the feel of the
thing, I suppose, and then they walked out to the street.

So that’s how the tombstone came to Aunt Bet’s kitchen.

Usually it was turned face down, its smooth side up, and
was used for rolling out biscuit dough, chopping fresh
vegetables, slicing meats or kneading fondant.

On those occasions when Aunt Bet was doing fancy cooking,
decorating wedding cakes or making candy mints for the
Research Club meeting and such, the tombstone was turned
face up so the soft icing or candy could be pressed into
the stone roses, leaves and doves. No telling how many
wedding cakes Aunt Bet created with garlands of roses
circling the layers and sugary doves hovering in acanthus
leaves. Her embossed mints and bonbons were envied by every
hostess in town.

“Oh, Miss Bettie, how in the world do you decorate your
cakes so beautifully? Those doves and flowers and all are
perfect! And your fancy mints! Will you, please ma’am, tell
me how to do it?” aspiring culinary decorators often asked.

“Well,” Aunt Bet would reply, “first you find a tombstone.”
Then, if she liked the suppliant, she’d part with a few
recipes.

Tombstone Pastry Stone Recipes

Floating Cloud Biscuits Recipe

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
1 beaten egg

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening until
mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine milk and egg and
add to mixture; stir with fork to mix. Knead gently on
floured tombstone (plain side), roll out 3/4 inch thick,
cut, and bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450 degrees Fahrenheit about
12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Waste no time getting
biscuits to folks at the dining table, and have plenty of
butter and homemade preserves waiting.

Sweet Potato Biscuits Recipe

1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening
1 cup cooked sweet potatoes (mashed)
1/2 cup milk — maybe a little more

Cut shortening into flour, salt and baking powder which
have been sifted together. Stir in sweet potatoes and add
enough milk to make a dough stiff enough to roll. Roll on
floured tombstone and cut with biscuit cutter. Bake at
400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes.

Fancy Party Mints Recipe

1 box powdered sugar
5 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons half-and-half
12 drops oil of peppermint Food coloring

Let butter soften. Combine all ingredients and roll into
balls the size of walnuts. Press each ball gently into
dainty designs on tombstone so that imprint is left on
each.

Grandma’s Tea Cakes Recipe

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
3 eggs
3-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs, beating well after each
addition. Put in flavoring and add flour to make a stiff
dough. Roll thin, cut with big biscuit cutter, and bake at
350 degrees Fahrenheit about 10 minutes.

Old-Timey Fried Pies Recipe

2 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup cold milk
Stewed dried fruit

Sift dry ingredients together and cut shortening into dry
mixture. Gradually mix in milk. Roll out on floured
tombstone (plain side) and cut into 4-inch circles (a small
saucer is helpful as a cutting guide). Spoon 1-1/2
tablespoons of stewed fruit on half of each circle and fold
other half over it. Press edges together and seal with
tines of fork. Prick tops and fry in oil in deep skillet,
turning as each side browns. Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with sugar. Serve hot.

Peanut Brittle Recipe

2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups raw peanuts
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix sugar, syrup, water and salt and bring to boil. Cover
and boil 3 minutes. Remove cover and boil to hard ball
stage. Add butter and peanuts and cook until peanuts pop
and crackle. Remove from heat and quickly stir in soda and
vanilla. Pour out on greased tombstone. When set, slip
knife under edge, turn it over, and break into pieces.

Orange Cookies Recipe

2/3 cup butter
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Juice of 1 orange
Grated rind of 2 oranges

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating
after each one. Sift dry ingredients together and add to
creamed mixture. Mix in juice and rind. Chill. Roll thin
and cut with small, round cutter. Bake on greased cookie
sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown.

Pulled Candy Recipe

3 cups sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water

Mix and cook slowly until test drops are brittle when
dropped in cold water. Do not stir while cooking. Pour out
on cold, buttered tombstone. When candy is cool enough to
handle, butter fingers and thumbs well (might as well
butter whole hands!), take up part of candy, and pull it
with long, firm strokes until it becomes porous and light
colored. Put ropes of pulled candy on buttered tombstone or
plate until it is cool and hard. Cut or break into pieces.

Ada’s Pie Crust Recipe

1 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put shortening and boiling water in bowl over hot water
until shortening melts. Then add flour, baking powder and
salt. Mix well and beat with fork until creamy. Let cool.
Roll thin on floured tombstone.

Shortening Bread Recipe

4 cups flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pound butter

Cut room-temperature butter into sugar and flour which have
been sifted together. Mix (you’ll probably have to use your
hands) until firm. Roll out about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into
fancy shapes, if desired. Bake on cookie sheet at 325 degrees Fahrenheit
for 20 minutes.

Jefferson Davis Pie Recipe

1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 nutmeg, grated
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup cream
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup broken pecan meats
1 unbaked pie shell (Ada’s recipe)

Cream butter and sugar together well. Add egg yolks one at
a time, beating after each addition. Sift flour and spices
together and blend into egg mixture, stirring until smooth.
Gradually blend in cream and stir in dates, raisins and
nuts. Pour into pie crust and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 40
minutes. Top with meringue (made with 4 egg whites and 1/2
cup sugar) or with whipped cream flavored with sherry.

Cherokee County Vinegar Pie Recipe

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 egg
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup water
1 unbaked pie shell (Ada’s recipe)

Cream butter and sugar. Sift flour and spices together and
add to mixture. Add vinegar, egg and water. Place in top of
double boiler and cook until thick, stirring often. While
filling is cooking, let pie shell bake in oven about 5
minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour filling into partially baked
shell and bake at 350° until filling is set and light
brown.

Recipes reprinted from Treasured Alabama Recipes, © 1967 by Kathryn Tucker Windham.