The Cookie Table – a Pittsburgh Tradition

the cookie table is a pittsburgh tradition

Ever grow up in an area of the country that has one of those traditions you can’t image missing out on? Ever marry someone from someplace else only to discover they have the exact same tradition? If you haven’t…it’s pretty cool. Yet another one of those little things God pops up to make you smile and go “yeah…this is good.”

For Mr W and I, it was the cookie table.

While cookie tables and non-cake dessert stations have been all the rage for a few years now in the world of weddings, the cookie table as a tradition goes back decades for those of us who grew up in the Rust Belt.  See, Mr W grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and I grew up in a small town outside of Youngstown, Ohio.  In both areas, the cookie table was an old tradition that had been present at graduation parties, retirement parties, weddings and anniversary parties for as long as anyone on either side of the family could remember.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea, it basically works like this.

In the days, weeks and even months leading up to a wedding…friends and family of the bride and groom bake cookies, brownies, and pastries like mad. Every family member or friend makes up their personal “showcase” cookie in large quantities and brings them the night before the wedding.  These cookies are then put out on a special “cookie table” at the reception as part of the dessert. Guests generally start eating cookies the moment the reception starts and end up snacking on them the entire night. The best cookie tables overflow to such a degree that the bride and groom provide doggie bags for the guests to take their favorite treats home at the end of the night.

It’s basically the friends and family’s way to pour out their love for the bride and groom while also showing off the baking skills of family and friends.

When I moved to Columbus to attend college and then stayed for the next decade, I was always a little bit disappointing to attend the weddings down there. They had no idea what a cookie table was, they only had wedding cake.

Such a sad, sad state of affairs.

So when Mr W and I got engaged and I started working on wedding plans, building a list of contributors for the cookie table was pretty high on my list. The bonus? Both sides of the family knew what a cookie table was and were totally on board with helping out.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea about cookie tables…we’re not talking about a table next to the cake with a few plates of chocolate chip cookies or some store bought brownies. We’re not talking about 3 or 4 cookies per person.

We’re talking about a table that is absolutely LADEN with homemade treats that could put Michael Phelps into a diabetic coma.

A little perspective for you…

We had 100 guests at our wedding.

We had 140 DOZEN cookies. That’s 1,680 cookies, or 16.8 cookies per person.

THAT’S a true cookie table.

The entire process started a month or two before the wedding when my mom came down for a weekend and helped me back 68 dozen cookies over the course of two days.

mom helping to bake cookies for the table

She made mystery bars, caramel cups, pecan tarts and cheesecake tarts. I made soft molasses cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies and peanut butter cup sugar cookies. Over the next few weeks, friends made pizzelles, angel cookies, sandwich cookies, chocolate dipped oreos, cheesecake brownies, buckeyes, lemon bars, biscotti and sugar cookies.  My adopted Italian aunt who lives next door to my parents even brought ewands.

It was…to put it mildly…insane.

It was also the one job I allowed myself to take on the day of the wedding. It was about the only thing I had envisioned so clearly in my head that I wouldn’t let anyone else take care of the set up.

Setting up the cookie table

So there I was the morning of the wedding setting out cookie after cookie onto plates, platters and baskets that had been arranged just so. It seemed fitting that several of the large white platters we used for the cookies had belonged to Mr W’s grandmother, who he had bought the property from. I can only imagine how many other big family events and gatherings those platters had served homemade food from.

Of course once things got rolling and I knew what was going where, I gave in and accepted some help unloading all those cookies.

cookies being unloaded to the trays

Of course we couldn’t fit but a small percentage of the cookies on the table at the start of the wedding. Thankfully the caterers were more than happy to refill them throughout the night for us.

And as you can imagine, with all those cookies sitting out, it didn’t take long for people to start sneaking a bite here and there. In fact, I’m pretty sure Things One, Two and Three had all eaten half a dozen or more before the ceremony even started.

thing 3 sneaking cookies

You can see the basket of take home bags in the picture above. Our guests were smart…they used them. In fact, when we came home from our honeymoon, we were surprised at just how few cookies were left. They’d decimated anything with chocolate or peanut butter in them. My guess is friends took home bags stuffed to the brim.

Which was fine by us, it was sort of the point.

cake pop centerpiece

One friend even nicknamed the table “The Dessert Buffet of Love” during the reception. I thought our single guy friends were going to die of sheer bliss.

cookie table close up

Overall, it was one of those things I just loved about our wedding. We wanted the day to be a celebration not only of us and of the amazing blessings God has given us, but of the family and friends who have loved us, supported us and been so integral in our lives.

Having a cookie table gave people a chance to BE part of the celebration. They got to contribute something tangible that everyone could enjoy.

Cookie Tables are a great way to cut reception costs and get family involved

For our out of town friends, it was the chance to experience a local tradition. (Not to mention the chance to scarf up some super tasty treats that many of them had never had before.)

The only thing I’d do differently is to have gathered all the recipes for each of the cookies brought in by family members and to have made those recipes available to the guests along with the take home bags.

Cost wise…this was an extremely effective way to handle desserts at the reception. Here’s how things broke down…

  • 150 Rented Square Salad Plates =$60 (.40 each to rent)
  • 250 Green Cocktail Napkins = Free (See the Smarty Had a Party Cinnamon Roll Story)
  • Cake Pop Stand = $30 in materials (Mr W built it)
  • White Platters = Free (Hand-me downs from his late grandmother)
  • Three level basket & Platter Combination = Free (a gift from Mr W’s parents)
  • Tri-Level dessert trays 4 x $20 each = $80 (from
  • 160 Dozen cookies = Free (Gifted by family and friends)
  • 100 White Paper Bags = $6
  • Paper Bag Basket = Free (I owned it)
  • Two Large Chocolate Tablecloths = $12 x 2 = $24 (Purchased Online)
  • Two 6′ Tables = Free (Borrowed from my parents)
  • Giant “Cake Pop” = FREE (Gifted by the wife of the best man)
  • 350 Cake Pops = $24 (Made by Maid of Honor and I)

Total Cost = $224 (or slightly more than $2 per guest total cost in desserts)

HOWEVER… Since the wedding, I sold the chocolate tablecloths for $10 each, sold two of the three-tier dessert trays for $20 each and we sold the cake pop stand for $75.  So add a credit of $135 back into the mix.

Total Revised Cost = $89 (or .89 cents per guest total cost in desserts)

Not a single person missed us having a traditional wedding cake. In fact, we heard time and time again how much people loved the tiered cake pop stand and the variety of desserts. Believe me, everyone went home happy and we saved hundreds of dollars in dessert costs that we could spend elsewhere.

Hands down one of the most “bang for your buck” investments for our wedding reception.


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