A cookie table is a community effort. Sometimes, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers start baking months before a wedding or graduation party, shaping and freezing hundreds or thousands of cookies. The end result is a display heaped with family-recipe sweets in different sizes, shapes, and colors, on trays and stands, bountiful enough to overshadow or replace a wedding cake. Guests fill plates, load take-home boxes, and discreetly stuff napkins with kiffles, thumbprints, pizzelles, and clothespin cookies. The tradition has a second act: the next morning’s cookie breakfast.
The cookie table originated, according to its chroniclers, as an all-hands-in alternative to expensive wedding cakes for Italian and Eastern European immigrant families in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The practice is still more or less localized around Youngstown and Pittsburgh. If, like many of us, you’ve never known the joys of an all-you-can-eat cookie bar at a family gathering, you can get a taste, even in these distanced times, from Bonnie Tawse’s charming new Belt Cookie Table Cookbook.
Tawse immersed herself in cookie table culture to collect forty-one time-tested and treasured recipes—going from the Cookie Table and Cocktail Gala in Youngstown to the 15,500-member Youngstown Cookie Table group on Facebook. She found sweets with Rust Belt roots generations deep and others that demonstrate the cookie table’s versatility, including the truffle-like brigadeiros that a Brazilian mother-of-the-bride made to go with the groom’s mother’s baklava at a wedding in Ohio. The first time I flipped through the book, I stopped at these throwback cream wafers, contributed by Youngstown cookie table enthusiasts Sally Palumbo and Chelsey Ludwiczak.