Pittsburgh Cookie Tables

James Santelli

Los Angeles, California

April 22, 2012

Folklore Type: Tradition

Informant Bio: James Santelli is my boyfriend. He is a twenty year old Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Sports Media at the University of Southern California. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; he has lived there his whole life and is very proud of it. James is Catholic and has three siblings. He likes cookies.

Context: James’ sister Katherine got married right before this Spring Semester of 2012 started. I attended the wedding with him, and before I went we talked about what would happen during the wedding as I had never been to a Catholic wedding before. During this he mentioned how excited he was for the cookie tables. I had never heard of cookie tables before especially not at a wedding as I am an avid cake fan, and that is all people eat for dessert at an average Texas wedding. We got into a heated debate about cookies versus cake, in which he tried to explain to me the merits and tradition of the cookie tables. Much later, I asked him to re-explain the cookie tables to me.



J: So if you’re a Pittsburgher that’s having a wedding or you’re having your wedding in Pittsburgh you still usually have a wedding cake, but it’s a small cake. It’s not a huge cake, and instead of everybody having cake. They would have tables of cookies all different kinds of cookies. Your basic chocolate chip or sugar cookies, and then you have other ones, you know, peanut butter blossoms or snickerdoodles or pizzelles. All sorts of different kinds of cookies. So much so that at Katherine’s wedding (sister) What did it end up being? Like…ten cookies per person? And there were so many left at the end.

A: Oh my god. Boxes and boxes. Um all right, who makes the cookies?

J: The cookies are made by the family of the bride usually, a lot of it is done by the mother of the bride which is why my mom was working like almost (laughs) tirelessly making cookies in the few weeks before the wedding. (Still laughing) And like baking them and freezing them like all day, and then doing it another day. But she also got help from, you know, family friends that baked cookies as well. And, you know, cousins, sisters of my mom, or sisters in-law that baked some cookies themselves and froze them. And then it all has to get transported to the, to the site of the wedding reception.

A: Who does the transporting?

J: Uh, it depends on who can take them, like I know in this case my mom stored a lot of the cookies as much as the freezer can hold. And then Mrs. Bacala, our family friend, she like people would bring her the cookies, and she’d freeze as much as possible. And then some of them they would just order, and they would be catered. But I gotta think a majority of them were homemade.

A: Um, ok, um so it’s mostly like mother of the bride or like family of the bride I guess who pays for all of that?

J: Well their paying for the whole wedding anyway so they probably save money baking their own cookies rather than buying them.

(Portion of interview cut out and placed into Informant’s Analysis)

A: So when, when do you get to eat the cookies?

J: Get to eat the cookies after dinner unless you sneak some cookies before. It depends on if the like, if they bring out the cookies like right after dinner and place ‘em out on the tables, or the cookies are already sitting there. And you kinda know you shouldn’t eat them until after, but there are so many cookies so you gotta at least have one or two before dinner just to make a dent in them.

A: Is there not a cookie baron that gets mad at you (James laughs) for eating cookies too soon?

J: Nobody’s really guarding the cookie table (Alex laughs) so seriously. Everybody knows that those cookies have gotta get eaten, so it’s kind of with a wink and a nod that you (begins winking on every word) shouldn’t eat them before dinner.


Informant Analysis:

A: So how does the cookie table make you feel?

J: I like cookies! (laugh) So the cookie tables are definitely a plus in my book, and I also think it’s good because if you have just one wedding cake, and it’s the kinda cake that uh some guests may not really like they don’t really have a choice. They’re not eating the cake, but in the case of the cookie table then there are dozens of different kinds of cookies, myriad cookies. Even if you don’t like peanut butter cookies or whatever you’re bound to find a cookie that you like, and you can eat those for your dessert instead. Plus it’s just a Pittsburgh tradition to have cookie tables at your wedding. It’s something cool to have. The best guess (to how it started) is that it came from European immigrants, you know, either German, Polish, um Slovak, Irish, somebody that people are guessing that’s what they did in weddings back in the homeland. If they like didn’t have real big cakes. It was just people who were coming to the wedding but bringing cookies instead.

A: Ok, so it just stayed through tradition supposedly?

J: Probably. That’s what they guess.

A: And why do you think it’s still a thing today? Just because it’s…easy and tradition and..?

J: Well it kinda makes sense for me. It’s like I said to have the cookies that you have the variety of things, and I dunno it’s just Pittsburgh can be a very regionalistic place that obviously we’re all more nationalized and we have like wedding magazines that everybody reads all across the country. And like things that are the same amongst all weddings, but then you have things that are unique to the area that you live in. And just ‘cause they kinda develop that way, and if I’m a person that grows up and sees at all the weddings I go to that there are cookie tables that’ll probably continue when I get married or Kara (sister) gets married or Andrew (brother) gets married. And just passes down along that way.


Analysis: I agree with James about why the cookie tables are important to him and how they probably came into being a tradition. What is interesting is the fact that the mother of the bride is the one that makes all or the majority of the cookies. It is the mother’s matronly duty to prepare an important and beloved food item for the last time that her child will be seen as a child and in her care. A wedding is usually where a girl transitions from her family to creating a family of her own. The importance of the cookie tables seems to be a last attempt for a mother and other adult female figures to do something while the daughter of the bride is still acting as a child. The other aspect that connects to this mother and child mindset about the cookies is that people steal them before dinner. The common occurrence that almost acts as a joke refers back to the practice of children stealing cookies before dinner when they are not supposed to. Whether or not there was the same association between matrons and cookies among older European generations is unknown, but that association is alive today in early childhood and again in a Pittsburgh wedding.

Alex Williams

Los Angeles, California

University of Southern California

ANTH 333m   Spring 2012