passion in pittsburgh: with this cookie, i thee wed

Cookies for the bride and groom.

Do you fancy a cream-filled lady lock, a rich chocolatey buckeye, a peanut butter blossom?

No need to toil in your kitchen beating butter, sugar, eggs, and flour into submission or raid your neighborhood bakery. Just invite yourself to a Pittsburgh wedding!

Those in-the-know will tell you that a well laden Cookie Table is absolutely de rigueur in the Steel City, where skyscrapers tickle the clouds and arched yellow bridges invite exciting adventures on both sides of the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela Rivers.

I’m happy to report that since I attended my first Pittsburgh wedding about two weeks ago, I am now officially in-the-know. Just call me “Crumbs.”

But seriously. Who knew?

It’s a time-honored tradition for women on the bride’s side of the family — venerable aunts, huggable grandmas, plucky cousins, maybe a few friends thrown in — to bake dozens and dozens of cookies for the wedding reception (some big weddings boast 15-21,000 cookies!). Sometimes these cookie monsters will meet in somebody’s kitchen for a marathon baking session, or they’ll bake their special recipes in their own kitchens and freeze the goodies ahead of the big day.

For my nephew’s wedding, the bride’s mother emailed prospective bakers and within 6 hours all had responded with the type of cookie(s) they would be making. These were then collected and transported to the hotel, where catering staff arranged them on platters to be displayed on a long banquet table.

It’s up to the couple to decide whether to unveil the cookies after dinner or make them available right after cocktail hour. Sarah and Lee allowed us to dig in right away. Cookies before dinner? What fun!

And oh, what luscious variety! Apparently certain kinds of cookies are traditional, even expected, at Pittsburgh weddings: the aforementioned lady locks, peanut butter blossoms, and buckeyes, along with pizzelles (Italian waffle cookies) which are commonly served flat, but I saw what looked like rolled-up pizzelles, a nice variation of the lady lock.

I also saw snickerdoodles, standard chocolate chip cookies, white chocolate chip cookies, a couple of different iced sugar cookies with sprinkles, a dipped spice cookie, a soft cakey pinwheel cookie and little brownie candy cups.

Oh, and these Italian sandwich cookies were lovely! All the icings for the cookies were dyed to match the peachy-salmon color of the bridesmaids’ dresses.

Guests are invited to graze at leisure, even take a box of their favorites home to eat for breakfast the next morning. I read some funny stories of how in the old days, guests would slip cookies into their purses or coat pockets, kids would wrap them up in napkins or better yet, find a paper plate to haul away their stashes. No nonsense types even brought their own zip-lock bags to the reception. Now, styrofoam containers or even Chinese take-out boxes are provided for all the guests.

Of course I wanted to know who started this wonderful tradition and why it seems to be a strictly Pittsburgh thing. Both Sarah and her mother said it began with the Italian immigrants. Apparently during the Depression era, few could afford fancy wedding cakes, so various relatives made cookies to ease the financial burden. Italians as well as other Eastern European immigrants brought their Old World recipes with them when they settled in the area and it’s been part of the local wedding scene ever since, cutting across all ethnic, social and religious lines.

But Cookie Table origins remain a subject of debate. Though Pittsburgh natives lay strong claim to starting the practice, people in Youngstown, Ohio, also claim Cookie Tables started there. Variations of Cookie Tables, not only for weddings, but for graduations, showers, anniversary and birthday parties, have supposedly appeared in places like New York, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey. I’ve lived in Virginia for over 25 years, and have yet to see any Cookie Tables here. Clearly I’m not traveling in the right social circles🙂.

Cookie Table etiquette is also quite fascinating. What if you can’t or don’t have time to bake? Is it acceptable to order cookies from a bakery? Some would consider that sacrilege, but some invariably do, perhaps taking advantage of a nice compromise — the Pittsburgh Cookie Company will take your family recipe and bake it for you. Still, it is said that it’s not the bride’s dress, the delicious dinner, the wedding cake, or the dance music that makes or breaks a wedding. It’s always about the cookies.

Those I brought home from Lee and Sarah’s wedding were carefully scrutinized by the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers. Serious scientific testing, tasting, and heated debate took hours.

The samples were judged for their colors, textures, flavors and power to elicit cravings for more. Martin, Honeybun and Ted Head were able to decide on a favorite, but for Mr. Cornelius it was a three-way tie among the chocolate choices (he is, if nothing else, acutely diplomatic when it comes to these things, or maybe he thinks if he chooses three, he can eat three).

Martin votes for the brownie candy cup.
Ted Head has a natural affinity for the Buckeye.
Honeybun likes the dipped spice cookie for the way it sets off his fur.
Cornelius likes the chocolate filled butter cookie.
No, wait. He likes the brownie candy cup!
What about this tasty white chocolate chip cookie? Decisions, decisions!

All I can say is that now I’m spoiled for Cookie Tables, and will be disappointed if the next wedding I attend doesn’t have one. Weddings not only join two people, but two families. Cookies are great equalizers, delicious symbols of love in a compact bite. Even in your cocktail dress and heels or penguin tux, you become a kid again in the presence of cookies, and pretense flies out the window.

Beware renegade bears driving off with the spoils!

The presence of family recipes, handed down through the generations, speaks of cultural history and heritage, local custom, the warm oven in your aunt’s or grandma’s kitchen. What better way to show your love for the couple, to celebrate the beginning of a new life together?

Congratulations again, Sarah and Lee!

Oh, I love you, Cookie Table. I do!

Here, have one of my favorites!

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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all good-looking, hungry people are invited to share recipes, cookbook/fiction/nonfiction/movie reviews, photos and musings. Put on a bib and join the deliciousness!

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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

52 thoughts on “passion in pittsburgh: with this cookie, i thee wed

  1. What a marvelous tradition! I’ve never seen a cookie table here in the west, but maybe because so many of us are transplants? The cookies look divine, Jama. It’s great that that company will take a family recipe & bake it for you. Thanks for all the pics, & the cuteness of Cornelius & friends. They are looking very much like they’re licking their lips!

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    1. The bears all want to get married now, especially Cornelius. To think I’d never have known about this if my nephew hadn’t married a Pittsburgh girl🙂.

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  2. I have seen the cookie table at showers….oh yes indeed! But not at weddings, and the idea of having take home boxes is divine!

    Perhaps Jama you and your hubby can have a cookie table at your wedding anniversary party!

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    1. A cookie table at a shower wouldn’t have surprised me as much. Usually the tiered wedding cake takes center stage at receptions. This time, though, we got to have both cake and cookies. Yay!

      We hope to celebrate our next anniversary in England. We’d need a biscuit table there🙂.

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  3. It does seem a cookie table is the perfectthing for the wedding of Sara and Lee. Was you spice cookie a gingersnap? What a wonderful tradition. Now they can celebrate every anniversary with cookies. Wish I’d been there tosample a few. thanks for sharing this great post.

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    1. Yes — I like the idea of celebrating every anniversary with cookies! Hope they do that.

      I don’t think it was a gingersnap exactly — I detected molasses with other spices, ginger being one of them.

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    1. Yikes! 25 stitches? Sorry to hear that, Joy. Sending healing thoughts your way — and virtual cookies. Though it sounds like you’ve got your own stash🙂.

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  4. Oh, Jama (aka Crumbs), you’re killing me here! So many cookies, and not a one to eat! If I’m ever invited to a wedding in Pittsburgh I must make sure to accept.

    I’m reminded of the cake tables at German weddings. I wonder if there’s any connection.

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    1. Cake tables? Sounds like something else I should investigate!🙂 It would be fun to sample different cakes at a wedding, instead of just one kind. Though I also like the idea of a Pie Table.

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  5. This is my kind of tradition. What a great idea then and even more so now. Thanks for sharing this special delicious day with us. I always enjoy your pictures and comments.

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  6. Wow. As my Scottish friends say, “School is always in session!” I have learned something today I’d never heard of. A cookie table! What a fabbity idea! Probably easier than a fancy wedding cake.

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    1. I don’t know whether baking several thousand cookies would be easier than creating one big wedding cake. But the people in Pittsburgh don’t have to debate that because they have both at their weddings. Way to go!

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    1. That would be quite a challenge — since the other people in Pennsylvania haven’t even adopted the custom. But of course it might be fun trying nevertheless🙂.

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  7. The cookie table is a great idea! I was at the wedding, and had the cookies…they were great. This is the first time I’ve been to the blog. Thank you for the transport to the wedding..it was nice to meet you.

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  8. What a delicious tradition! The closest thing we have here are cookie trays piled high with traditional Italian cookies that the bride and groom serve to their guests… it’s a great way for them to ‘make the rounds’ and talk to everyone at the reception.

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  9. Wow! Okay, so I grew up in Ohio and I know about relatives baking cookies for things like high school graduation parties and bar mitzvahs and confirmations but I didn’t know about the cookie table for weddings. And yes, I have heard stories about certain community members (long dead, but I’m still not naming names) who would sneak cookies in their pockets and purses!

    What an awesome spread and a fun post. I think I’d go for the dipped spice cookies too.

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    1. Apparently the Cookie Table is an Eastern Ohio thing — not sure whether you grew up in that part of the state. It’s odd how this idea hasn’t spread around more. It’s such a good one!

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  10. Great tradition…I am from the other side of the great state of Pennsylvania (Philly) but transplanted to Florida……thanks fro bringing a slice of my favorite state to my day. Love all those cookies…now I am hungry.

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  11. My friend who lives and got married in Pittsburgh had a cookie table at her wedding. It was the first time I’d seen it. It was really cool to see all the cookies her family provided. Plus collect all those recipes!

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  12. What a lovely tradition! How nice for people to show their love for family by baking. I attended a wedding where the groom’s mother make Italian cookies for the reception and I thought it was such an beautiful expression of love. I have family in Pittsburgh, I’m going to have to ask them about this.

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    1. Definitely the Italians are behind all of this! I’m surprised your relatives in Pittsburgh haven’t mentioned this before. Best kept secret!🙂

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  13. As always, a beautifully written post, not to mention mouthwatering! I have never heard of this tradition, but I love it! We have some family in Pittsburgh, but unfortunately they all moved out that way after they were married! Darn. lol!

    Those pizzelle cookies are not only rolled but filled with buttercream!? YUM!

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