It was about 2am, early in February a year or so ago, when I finished packing the last of the fifth and final batch of amaretti cookies into a freezer container and snapped the lid closed satisfactorily. I picked up two misshapen “mistakes” of cookies and munched on them on the way to the fridge where I crossed “amaretti” off a long list held to the fridge door by a weak magnet. The magnet couldn’t hold the weight of the list, it kept falling to the floor, and I’d like to think it knew the weight and importance of just how many cookies were on that list and what they were for: an Italian cookie table for my sister’s wedding shower.
Amaretti, tri-colour cookies, chambrelle, crescents, pastry peaches and more lined table after table once we were all done. With two weddings in the family in eight months last year, the cookie baking was constant. My mother baked dozens upon dozens of cookies starting months in advance and filled her freezer, and the freezers of family and friends, leading up to the big day. (All these photos are from my own and my sister’s wedding showers.) The loving care with which they are all prepared, packaged, handled and displayed, shows just how important they are to the celebration.
While no one really knows how and when it originated in general (Wikipedia says it is a tradition that started in Pennsylvania), the cookie table is definitely an Italian-Catholic mainstay for weddings and bridal showers. After a three or four course meal at a shower or a wedding, all the guests line up with cookie boxes in hand to sample the traditional and newly invented cookies and to load up some treats to bring home and enjoy the next day.
The cookie table is usually more important than even the cake at weddings. It’s a time to pick up some memories from childhood and to get a special treat to take home. Most importantly, it’s a gathering place to say “oh remember these!”, “I haven’t made these in ages” and “can I get the recipe…” I find that at these events, it is usually around the cookie table where I hear stories about which grandmother used to make the best particular cookie or what was traditional from a certain town or family.
When I was young, my family used to call me the Cookie Monster because I couldn’t get enough cookies, store bought or home made. But the truth is, I’m not the only one that can’t get enough of Italian cookies, judging by the jostling and hovering around cookie tables at all Italian events by everyone. But it’s not just the cookies we’re after, I think. The cookies are an instant reminder of previous celebrations, of sticking your fingers in dough at your mother’s or grandmother’s table, of spilling sugar in the wee hours of the night and of spending time creating, tasting and preparing to be with family and friends.