Cookie tables: A regional wedding tradition
Today we’re taking a look at a wedding tradition that started in Pennsylvania but is slowly gaining attention across the country – the cookie table. If this post doesn’t induce a sugar craving, you’d better check your pulse.
This topic has a special place in this editor’s heart, because it comes from my hometown!
Growing up, I thought every wedding in America had a cookie table. Months before any family wedding, I remember helping my mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins bake hundreds of cookies to be stashed in the freezer before the big day.
No one knows exactly how or when this tradition started, or even who started it. Cookie tables began appearing at weddings throughout the Pittsburgh area and some parts of eastern Ohio sometime between the turn of the century and the Great Depression. Some speculate that people began bringing cookies to weddings in order to defray wedding expenses to the couples’ families during hard times.
Large groups of immigrants settled in the region at this time, and many credit the tradition to the Italians. However, Greek and Eastern European families in the area also include the cookie table as an essential part of the wedding feast.
Our cookie table tradition has gotten a lot of press in recent years. NPR, The New York Times and the much-missed Gourmet Magazine have all covered this wedding tradition with a hint of fascination. But Gourmet‘s title (“Cookies – The New Cake”) got one thing wrong: these epic displays of homemade cookies aren’t instead of a wedding cake – they’re in addition to the wedding cake. The cake is a mere dessert course; the cookies are an all-day event.
Relatives may admire the bride’s dress and glance at the floral arrangements, but they study the cookie table. Everyone wants to know who made which cookie, and guests are always eager to take some cookies home with them.
There aren’t many rules for a wedding cookie table, just that quantity is key. It’s rare to see a plain old chocolate chip cookie on display, and there are several types of cookies that have come to be associated with weddings in this region.
Here are a few that you’re likely to see if you attend a wedding in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio:
These creme-filled, flaky cookies can be bite-sized or closer to the size of a fat cigar. Lady Locks are one of the most labor-intensive wedding cookies, but they’re always a hit. Check out a tried-and-true Pittsburgh recipe here.
Pizzelles are an Italian cookie made in a machine that resembles a waffle iron. They can be flavored with anise, lemon, vanilla or almond extract, and sometimes cocoa powder is added for a chocolate cookie. Find yourself a pizzelle iron and try this recipe.
It’s all right there in the name, though similar cookies can be found in places as far flung as Hawaii, Mexico and Russia. These crumbly, powdered-sugar-doused cookies are essential to any wedding cookie table. Try this traditional recipe. Even celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito has gotten in on the act.
These buttery little sandwich cookies often have icing in the middle dyed to match the wedding’s colors. Try the recipe found here.
Farfatelle, Guanti, Wandi, Bowties, Cenci – these cookies go by many names, but no matter what you call them, they’re an omnipresent part of the wedding cookie table. Try this recipe, and don’t forget the powdered sugar!
I saved the unhealthiest (best?) for last. This recipe isn’t wrong; these cookies actually contain a dozen eggs. Like the sandwich cookies, the glaze on these babies is often tinted to match the wedding colors.
Have you ever been to a wedding with a cookie table? What’s your favorite wedding cookie?
Do you plan to include a local or ethnic tradition in your wedding menu?