Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cookie Table Diaspora

Update: More cookie table tales!

While Youngstown is in Ohio, I contend that the city has more in common with Pittsburgh than Cleveland. That's a bold claim and I can imagine the passionate rebuttal. A common cultural tradition is the cookie table:

Liz Nohra, curator of a cookie-table exhibit at the local history museum in Youngstown, Ohio, traces the custom back to immigrants—mostly Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Greeks—who worked in the steel mills and perhaps couldn’t afford a wedding cake. As to where the custom originated—Youngstown or Pittsburgh—no one is certain. ...

... There are wonderful tales of the angry aunt whose specialty wound up at the back of the display and a bride’s family fallen into disgrace when store-bought cookies turned up in the mix. But most of the lore surrounding the cookie table is about happy times. “It’s a way of bringing people into your celebration,” says Nohra, “sharing a heritage of family and food.” And the cookie table is spreading; she has tracked them not only to weddings but also to anniversary celebrations, graduations, showers, and baptisms as far away as West Virginia, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. I can vouch for one turning up in Connecticut. When I got married there last summer, my Pittsburgh relatives staged a cookie table full of our family favorites. The wedding cake made quite a splash, but it was the cookies that stole the show.

In a diaspora location such as Connecticut, the cookie table is a common experience between Youngstown and Pittsburgh natives. Extending the metaphor, expatriates with a similar wedding reception ceremony enjoy a greater sense of trust. Each person, whether from Youngstown or Pittsburgh, believes the other sees the world in the same way.

The cultural diffusion of the cookie table defines an expanding economic geography of opportunity. Those who keep such traditions despite leaving one's hometown represent an alumni network. They've never really left.


  1. Good thoughts Jim. I had a funny conversation over lunch with a group in Pittsburgh a few years ago. One of the women had grown up here and didn't realize that cookie tables were not a national phenomenon. I'm not from here, and have come to appreciate little things like the Cookie Table. Another case of locals taking something great (albeit not earthshaking) for granted.
    - Tom Buell

  2. Jim, I attended a wedding in Pittsburgh a few years ago and remembered this and being told it was a Pittsburgh tradition. A nice touch I must say.

  3. Also rarely do you pizelles outside of the Youngstown-Pittsburg-Cleveland area. Most Italian-Americans in the North East never heard of then.