Weddings evoke many different variations of excitement for attendees. For some they look forward to seeing the newlywed couple walking down the aisle as husband and wife for the first time, others go for the opportunity to get all dolled up; still others attend for the delicious spread of food and the open bar. For me the main draw has always been the promise of a plethora a delicious cookies spread across the cookie table.
Until recently, I thought everyone enjoyed this same amazing benefit of wedding practice. That was until I attended a good friend’s wedding who had invited some guests from out of town, the state of Washington to be precise. When I mentioned how excited I was to scour the dessert table, she had a puzzled look on her face.
“What is a cookie table?” she asked with piqued interest.
I responded in just as confused manner, “Umm, the most delicious part of the wedding. It’s a table filled with cookies what’s not to love!”
After walking over to the table and proving that I was indeed not crazy her eyes lit up and she learned of this wonderful Midwestern tradition. More importantly, what this did was query in my mind the tradition of cookie tables. Through hours of research, and admittedly baking to ease the burden, I’ve come away with inconclusive evidence on its origins.
From what I’ve found there is a debate on the cookie table’s origin. Various publications credit the tradition to Pittsburgh while others credit it to Youngstown. However, what I can tell you with more certainly is the cultural origin of it and its almost accidental beginnings.
The tradition was a creation of eastern European immigrants primarily Italians and Greeks. (which funny enough makes up my ethnicity so it almost makes sense that I love to bake) It arose out of the Great Depression as an alternative to wedding cakes. As any Italian or Greek can attest to there is no shortage of family members who can bake so families would band together and bake dozens of cookies to make up for the lack of a cake. The geographical range spreads mostly in a centralized location of New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and New Jersey, which all have a history of cookie tables.
Not all cookie tables are created equal but chances are no matter the size there is always something delicious to find. Cookies like Peanut Butter Blossoms, Buckeyes (uniquely a favorite, as Ohio is the Buckeye State), ladyfingers, brownies are known to be frequenters at most weddings. The largest known cookie table appeared at a wedding in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania it featured 21,000 cookies!
Now onto the argument of where it originated both Youngstown and Pittsburgh have well-documented populations of Italians and Greeks so it is not really possible to use that as a definitive point. Alas, print sources are also of little help as the limited stuff I did find swayed between both cities. Finally, on a kind of accident I stumbled upon perhaps the most definitive source available in this case, word of mouth. I was discussing this little research project with a friend over a beer and the owner of the establishment dropped some bit of wisdom. He said, “My wife’s family, who has been here since the early 1900’s swears up and down that the cookie table was a Youngstown invention.”
With this first folk tale in tow, I decided to collect some others and from what I could find there was an overwhelming number of people who attributed the tradition to Youngstown as opposed to Pittsburgh. I realize I cannot give complete credence to these verbal testaments, but for Italians and Greeks word of mouth was a major form of storytelling so I wouldn’t completely count it out either. Just the same, with the information I do have bordering on inconclusive on its origins the cookie table becomes a piece of folk lore of sorts and no matter where it originated it is still delicious.