The Pittsburgh Cookie Table

Filed in Education  /  September 6, 2022 /

“You went to a wedding? How were the cookies?”

Above is an interaction common in Pittsburgh when talking about recently attended weddings. Pittsburgh has a beautiful wedding tradition unique to the area – the cookie table! Cookie tables are assortments of dozens of homemade cookies spread out across a table (or several tables!) at weddings. You’ll find many Eastern European historical recipes – Kolache, Pizzelles, Breskvice – as well as contemporary American additions such as Gobs, Buckeyes, and Chocolate Thumbprints.

Cookie tables are a delight and a highlight of weddings across Western Pennsylvania. I can count on one hand the number of Pittsburgh weddings I’ve been to that didn’t have one. They are often very large, featuring contributions from many friends and family of the couple. The largest one ever made was 88,425 cookies – achieved by the Monongahela Area Historical Society in 2019.

I remember when I first learned cookie tables were a regional thing – I was shocked. To people like me who were born and raised in Pittsburgh, cookie tables feel as natural a part of a wedding as a ring exchange or a first kiss does. A wedding without one simply feels incomplete.

Cookie Table History

The exact history of the cookie table remains a mystery today – though the leading theory suggests its roots trace back to Eastern European immigrants to the Pittsburgh area. During the Great Depression, many newlyweds could not afford to have wedding cakes at their celebrations. Instead, it is said they would have tables of homemade cookies for their guests to enjoy. Traditionally, women in a bride’s family – grandmothers, mothers, aunts, cousins, and more, would work together to bake the delicious treats. Preparation could begin months before the actual wedding and result in hundreds of homemade cookies made from family recipes.

Many cultures claim to be the source of wedding cookie tables but not enough is known about the tradition’s early origins to say for sure. If you attend a wedding hosted by an Italian family, you’re likely to hear cookie tables originated from them. The same can be said of Polish, Czech, Croatian, German, Irish, and other European cultures.

Cookie Tables Today

For many years cookie tables were unique to Pittsburgh and Youngstown. But today cookie tables have started to spread to other places. Today’s cookie tables exist along with wedding cake (you can never have too many desserts at a wedding anyway). Cookies are now made and brought by both sides’ friends and family. Cookie tables come in all shapes and sizes, though they’re frequently quite large as it’s said that each cookie is a wish for happiness for the new couple. So, the more cookies, the more good wishes a couple has.

Today cookie tables unite Pittsburghers as a cultural phenomenon, but they’re a tradition we love to share! Many online groups exist to share recipes and give cookie-related advice to family and friends of nearlyweds who are looking to build cookie tables of their own. One, a facebook group called The Wedding Cookie Table Community, is my favorite. It has over 100,000 members all ready to help you find the perfect recipe to try or baker to hire for your next cookie table. Even if you don’t have any family cookie recipes passed down, you’ll find hundreds there and all the advice needed to bring them to life.

Cookie Aunts, a group commonly responsible for many of the best cookies on a cookie table.

Cookie Table Tips

  1. You don’t have to be from Pittsburgh to have a cookie table. I’m serious – I think this tradition deserves to be a part of every wedding.
  2. Don’t forget the take-home boxes! Cookie tables often have way more cookies than guests can eat in the timespan of a reception. Make sure to offer some kind of to-go box so guests can take more cookies with them.
  3. There is no right or wrong cookie to have on a cookie table. Many traditional cookie table cookies like lady locks already push the definition of cookie quite a bit. I’ve seen plenty of cookie tables with brownie bites on them.
  4. Think tiers. Sometimes you’re lucky and get a table that’s big enough to lay all your cookies out flat but never count on it. Often you’ll need tiered serving plates to maximize space usage and fit the most cookies per inch.
  5. Want to bring cookies to a wedding but you’re not sure what to make? A family recipe is always a great place to start! Don’t have any? Bring your favorite cookie! There’s no wrong answer.

In summary…

Cookie tables are a fun, sweet tradition that brings a lovely extra sparkle to any wedding celebration. They’re a way to pay homage to family and to treat your guests to something special. ❤️

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