Family goes to great lengths to bring cookie table to Indiana wedding

A Monongahela woman helped keep the cookie table tradition alive and well at the wedding of a family member in the state of Indiana.

Wayne Johnson presides over his first cookie table at a reception at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.
Wayne Johnson presides over his first cookie table at a reception at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.
Wayne Johnson presides over his first cookie table at a reception at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.
Wayne Johnson presides over his first cookie table at a reception at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.

The cookie table is a longstanding tradition at many Western Pennsylvania weddings. That doesn’t hold true in Indianapolis, Ind., but that didn’t stop one Italian family from the Mon Valley from keeping their heritage intact at a family wedding, even though it proved more difficult than they thought.

Danielle Monn and Eric Bain sample the cookies at their wedding reception. 

Laura Magone, formerly of Monongahela, helped make sure the cookie table was part of the July 15 wedding of her cousin, Danielle Monn, and Eric Bain.

Mother of the bride Valerie Purcell-Monn grew up in Monongahela. Her grandparents, John Giovanni and Maria Mary Zanardelli Previtali, both emigrated from northern Italy to Monongahela.

“This was very important to me to keep this tradition,” Purcell-Monn said. “I had it at my wedding, and I wanted it at my daughter Danielle’s wedding. My relatives baked cookies for me, and I think this tradition is important, not just for the Mon Valley relatives but our heritage. It is a tradition that goes back generations and it connects us all.”

The wedding cookie table appears at most weddings in the Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, areas, with a variety of cookies spanning many ethnic groups.

Wedding planner Kelly Robertson transports cookies at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis. 

“In these parts, the day after the wedding, the main question isn’t how was the wedding, it’s how were the cookies?” said Magone, who now lives in Pittsburgh.

Magone has written and produced documentaries of the Mon Valley, including “One Extraordinary Street” and the “Umbrella Man.” She is working on one about the regional tradition of the Italian wedding cookie table.

The cookie table was born when neighbors and family members began baking and bringing cookies to the bride for her wedding during lean times.

Laura’s mother, Wanda Magone of Monongahela, said she remembers when she got married that her neighbor delivered cookies in a bushel basket to her home.

“That is what we did. All of the relatives and neighbors baked cookies for the weddings,” she said.

So, when Laura’s cousin wanted to bring the tradition to Indiana, Magone pitched in to help.

There were many willing bakers in Monongahela, but the Indiana Health Department doesn’t allow any outside homemade food to be served at a reception at an event facility. All food must be prepared by the facility or a licensed baker. Magone jokingly added that the option to sneak in some favorite homemade cookies was out of the question.

“The venue told us that the cookies had to come from a bakery, and they would call and check the bakery’s license number. We never heard of anyplace that didn’t allow homemade cookies,” she said. “Try telling that to an older Italian relative. My mother couldn’t believe it.

“When there is a wedding in the family, relatives and friends bake cookies. Each person has a specialty,” said Magone, noting that her mother’s specialty is biscotti.

“My mom makes about 16 different kinds of biscotti. Someone else may make the ribbon cookie, the peach cookie, or lady locks,” Magone said.

Patti Macey, owner of Patti’s Pasticceria in White Oak, and a helper are shown with some of the cookies for the wedding of Danielle Monn and Eric Bain in Indianapolis, Ind. 

With the homemade cookie idea nixed, Magone began calling bakeries in Indiana.

“They didn’t make any of the traditional cookies, such as the peach cookie, biscotti or the cold dough cookie,” Magone said. “So, I began taste-testing in Pittsburgh and found three bakeries that could provide the cookies.”

Magone collected cookies from traditional Pittsburgh eateries, such as Eat ’n Park and Giant Eagle, and Patti’s Pasticceria in White Oak.

For guests who had nut allergies, cookies were purchased from Eat ’n Park’s specialty bakery. For guests with a gluten intolerance, dairy- and gluten-free were purchased from Gluuteny Bakery in Squirrel Hill.

For the multistate trip, Magone packed the car and left with a day to spare so that the thousand-plus cookies in more than a dozen varieties would arrive on time. The first night at the hotel, the cookies were treated as special guests for their overnight stay. Hotel personnel met Magone at her vehicle and gingerly carried the cookies into the hotel for their overnight stay; spaces were allocated in the cooler and her room.

The cookie table idea was new to the staff of the hotel where the wedding was held. To understand the concept, banquet captain Wayne Johnson watched hours of YouTube videos to learn about the Italian wedding cookie table.

“No one at the hotel had ever heard of the cookie table or been asked to set one up, but they were very accommodating to us,” Magone said. The bride’s aunt, Cathy Previtali Matush of Monongahela, said the table presentation was very nice.

“It had lights and elevated displays with lights underneath them,” she said. “There were signs that told what kind of cookie there was. I have seen many cookie tables in my life, and this was beautiful.”

The bride explained to her guests the tradition behind the cookie table, and then led guests to the table, which was hidden until the bride and groom revealed it. Displayed on the table was the story of the table, as well as personal stories of relatives and their love of eating cookies, stealing cookies and baking cookies.

“People at first didn’t know what to do,” Matush said. “Here, when we go to the cookie table, we take a plate of cookies back to the table to share. Some of the guests were just taking one cookie, but then they caught on.”

Many of the guests had never even heard of some of the cookies.

“As our generation and past generations pass on, I feel it is important to keep the traditions and history of our past. The wedding cookie table is part of that,” Magone said.

Laura Magone is working on a documentary of the wedding cookie table, and her journey can be found at Magone will speak on “The Evolution of the Wedding Cookie Table” at the Monongahela Area Historical Society’s 2017-18 season kick-off meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at First Presbyterian Church, Main Street, Monongahela. There will be a sample wedding cookie table. There is no cost to attend, and registration is not necessary.