Youngstown Cookie Tables: Carving Celebration Out of Hardship, by Mary Manning
Often held in historic churches and halls, Youngstown weddings may be splendid, but the reception’s cookie table makes or breaks the occasion. Platters of cookies overflow, with multiple tiers offering all kinds of sweets. Many cookie tables include a sign that explains the tradition for out-of-town guests: “It is believed that this tradition started during the Great Depression when many families could not afford a wedding cake, so instead substituted homemade cookies baked by family and friends.” Immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe brought the practice with them when they arrived in the Mahoning Valley seeking jobs in steel mills and the other booming industries of the early twentieth century. They passed the tradition on to their neighbors who bought into its practicality and communality as times grew harder.
Today, the method of assembling a cookie table remains much the same as it was 90 years ago. Mothers and grandmothers, aunts and cousins, each contribute a fewdozen cookies of their specialty. It’s meant as a culinary blessing so that the love and care invested in baking can be passed on as health and longevity for the couple’s new marriage. For the mother of the bride or groom, a cookie table also makes a statement—a bountiful table means that she demands respect from the family members, neighbors, and friends who contribute cookies.