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When Two Become Yinz: The Pittsburgh Cookie Table Tradition

By Victoria Bails

Ryan Koch and Mike Audey decided to have a cookie table at their wedding because of the regional tradition.

When Megan and Tyler Martin were planning out their wedding, Tyler wasn’t aware it was only a local practice, but they knew they wanted one at their wedding.

Family tradition and, similarly, Pittsburgh tradition led Lyndsay and Justin Bersuder to incorporate a cookie table into their wedding.

“Well, I think that, first and foremost, it’s really kind of become the ‘Pittsburgh’ thing to do,” says Ryan. “I think every wedding, at least in this area, has a cookie table”

A popular old wives’ tale says that the famous Pittsburgh wedding cookie table began in the great depression era. Baking cakes became too expensive, and so to ration out supplies, families made cookies to start the tradition of the cookie table. Katlyn Doolin, manager at Bethel Bakery, says the bakery claims this as their own, adding that it came from immigrants who moved to Pittsburgh.

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Katlyn Doolin explains the history of Bethel Bakery and why their guests find it so special. Sound from Victoria Bails.

That same great depression-era tradition has lived on for decades.

“Over the years, it has grown lengths, and it has kind of morphed into its own thing,” says Doolin. For her, cookies serve guests as a grab-and-go type of dessert that are small enough to dunk into coffee or carry around while they mingle with other guests.

At Bethel Bakery, the wedding department represents a sizable part of the business that’s been family-owned since its founding. The department has its own storefront, and with that, it has consultation rooms to meet with brides and grooms. The focal point of those rooms is a wall filled with pictures of desserts for cookie tables.

A consultation room at Bethel Bakery is decorated with the focal point of the Pittsburgh Cookie Table. Photo by Victoria Bails.

Doolin says more often than not, couples schedule their consultation for wedding cakes.

“Most of the time, a cookie table is something that happens after the initial wedding consultation,” says Doolin. She says a lot of the time, other family members go into Bethel Bakery and order cookies for the cookie table as a way to help with the wedding.

Over the last few years, the wedding department made a package list with an assortment of cookies to make orders easier for tables. Formerly, couples came in and asked what the bakery recommended, and Doolin says it was hard to make those recommendations without knowing the couple’s preferences.

The package list starts at the highest option of 100 dozen and works its way down to 30 dozen. The highest package is more suited for 250 guests at a price of $870, and the lower package is appropriate for a smaller wedding of around 70 guests for $255. The cookies included in each package is listed as their most popular varieties.

Cakes are featured at the front window of Bethel Bakery. Photo by Victoria Bails.

Couples have the option to customize these packages as well. If a couple’s favorite isn’t included – or isn’t included at the right amount – the bakery offers add-ons. These add-ons could include monogrammed cookies, Terrible Towel cookies, or even cookie favor boxes to avoid guests wrapping them up in napkins at the end of the night to take home.

“Our goal is not to come in and take over someone’s cookie table. Our goal is to be a part of it in the way that they like best,” says Doolin.  Basically, she would never want the bakery’s oatmeal raisin cookie to replace grandma’s oatmeal raisin cookies if the couple didn’t want it that way.

“It’s always a labor of love,” says Doolin.

RYAN AND MIKE

When going to a wedding out of town, Ryan says he often questions where the cookie table is, but then remembers he isn’t in Pittsburgh anymore.

“I couldn’t imagine going to a wedding, at least my own, that didn’t have a cookie table,” says Ryan.

The cookie table at Ryan and Mike’s wedding is decorated with a sign that reads, “When two become yinz.” Photo courtesy of Ryan Koch.

Ryan and Mike had a cake at their wedding, too, but it was still important to the two of them to keep up with this custom.

Priory bakery baked some of the cookies, while family members baked the rest.  Ryan says they had over 3,000 cookies at their wedding, including lady locks – a flaky rolled cookie with cream filling inside – and pumpkin gobbs made by his brother-in-law’s sister.

Thumbprint cookies are one of the many cookies on Ryan and Mike’s cookie table. Photo courtesy of Ryan Koch.

The table was a hit with their guests. Ryan says Mike’s uncle snuck some cookies at the ceremony, which was held at the same location as the reception.

With a busy night ahead of them, Ryan and Mike didn’t get a chance to get any cookies that night – or any time after.

“We did not have any leftover cookies,” says Ryan. “You know it’s good when there’s nothing left at the end of the wedding.”

An assortment of cookies decorate the table. Photo courtesy of Ryan Koch.

MEGAN AND TYLER

As soon as Tyler popped the question to Megan, family members reached out to them to carry on the tradition of the cookie table. Anyone ranging from grandparents to aunts to cousins helped make baked goods for the table.

“We had close to 3,000 cookies,” says Megan. It took Megan’s grandmother – the family member who made the most cookies – a year to bake the cookies, keeping them fresh in the freezer.

Those cookies varied from lady locks – both Megan and Tyler’s favorite – to strawberry and orange cookies. They had cherry mice cookies, which is a chocolate covered maraschino cherry combined with a Hershey kiss and almond slices to look like a mouse.

Although they had a massive table filled with goodies, Megan and Tyler were unable to eat any at their wedding. One of Megan’s bridesmaids thought this would be the case, so she put together a picnic basket full of desserts and food from the wedding so the couple could enjoy it later.

“She kept asking me all night what my favorites were of all the things – and Tyler, too – and I had no idea what she was doing,” says Megan. “I just assumed she was putting them aside for me on the wedding party table.”

One of Tyler’s groomsmen made sure it got back to their house that night so they could enjoy it.

“It was so nice and thoughtful because we really didn’t have time that night to eat anything,” says Megan.

LYNDSAY AND JUSTIN

As for Lyndsay, she hails from the Pittsburgh area, and every time she went to a wedding, she always admired the cookie table as a great tradition.

“For me, I almost didn’t really consider not having one,” says Lyndsay. “It’s just a Pittsburgh tradition.”

Lyndsay and Justin pose in front of their cookie table. Photo by Jenna Hidinger Photography.

Lyndsay was excited to see how her guests, some of whom had only seen a cookie table once, or even never, reacted to the one at her wedding.

Justin says the carriage house where the cookies were set up looked like it transformed into a bakery for the night.

Lyndsay and Justin’s cookies are set up in a carriage house. Photo by Jenna Hidinger Photography.

That cookie table consisted of much more than just the fan favorites of peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip cookies. This one had ties to Lyndsay’s heritage.

Lyndsay’s maternal grandmother, or as she calls her “sita,” was part Lebanese and used to make butlawa, a buttery and crispy pastry, with Lyndsay.

Lyndsay’s paternal grandmother was Slovak and used to make roscke.

A sign on the table reads, “Just a picture-perfect day to last a whole lifetime.” Photo by Jenna Hidinger Photography.

When Lyndsay and Justin got married, both of her grandmothers had already passed away, so this was just one way they were able to represent them and their culture.

Lyndsay and Justin had cookies made by family and also by Lyndsay’s favorite bakery.

“I thought we had a really cool combination of baked goods, and purchased goods,” says Lyndsay.

This story was originally published on Offbeat ‘Burgh, a magazine product of Point Park University’s School of Communication.

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