My friend Marie asked a good question the other day: what exactly is the Pittsburgh cookie table tradition? I realized then that I hadn’t yet addressed this fundamental question on my blog. How silly!
The cookie table is a popular wedding tradition in northwestern Pennsylvania. It is usually a table (or two, or three, or four) covered with trays of cookies for guests to snack on throughout the party. The veritable cookie buffet is, of course, in addition to a proper wedding cake which many guests do not even eat, wrapping their slices instead in paper napkins to take home for breakfast the next morning.
Some cookie table displays are extravagant. A wedding vendor I interviewed told me of a mother-of-the-bride who, on the morning of the wedding, delivered 10,000 cookies for the venue staff to arrange and plate just six hours before the reception. Now the vendor charges a set-up fee for larger-than-usual quantities.
The vast quantities of cookies are produced by obliging aunts, grandmothers, cousins, and sisters of the bride who begin their work months before the wedding, freezing their creations until the big day. Sometimes they designate a few weekends and do their baking together. It’s a good excuse to spend time with one another, chat, and relax before the wedding.
No one is sure where the cookie table tradition began but it seems to be practiced in cities with large enclaves of Italian and Eastern-European immigrants. Perhaps it was a custom the newcomers brought with them from their home countries. Another theory suggests that the cookie table grew out of the Depression. When families couldn’t afford a wedding cake, guests chipped in by bringing batches of cookies, as a way to round out and make an otherwise sparse celebration, special.
For many, the cookie table is the best part of a wedding celebration. Guests enjoy seeing what cookies the bride’s family has baked as they usually reflect her origins and tastes. Every guest secretly, or not so secretly, compares the lady locks to their grandmother’s recipe. They are never quite as good. In Pittsburgh the cookie table is an event in itself. It’s a unique quirk which, as Pittsburghers marry outside the region, other cities are adopting adopt. And it’s about time. Who doesn’t appreciate a good cookie? That’s right, no one.