‘Cookie College’ Draws Bakers by the Dozens in Meadow Lands, Pa.
With a special iron, dough and sugary fillings laid out in front of her, chef Cynthia Ferich told those gathered around the table she was about to let them in on a family secret.
“This is my grandmother’s recipe,” she said as she got ready to show how to make pizzelle, an Italian waffle cookie. “It’s been passed down, passed down, passed down.”
Ferich was just one of the vendors whose tables lined the walls of a large conference room at the Double Tree by Hilton near Washington for the second “cookie college” Saturday, organized for members of a Facebook group that celebrates wedding cookie tables.
More than 500 people attended the fundraiser for the Monongahela Historical Society. The previous college, which was held in November, drew 325 people.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Laura Magone, a cookie aficionado from Monongahela who started the Facebook group. “I have no doubt that it’s going to continue to grow.”
At first, Magone said the group’s footprint matched the geographic area where it’s common for families and friends to bring their own offerings to add to the colorful displays at wedding receptions. That belt starts in Southwestern Pennsylvania and extends through Weirton and Wheeling in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle to Youngstown, Ohio.
“But now we have wedding cookie tables being held all over the country by people who have nothing to do with this area,” Magone said. “There is no corner of this world where we do not have a member.”
The decades-old wedding mainstay “represents the coming together of communities,” she said, adding, “It has to do with our ethnic and blue-collar roots.”
Magone, whose four grandparents were Italian immigrants, dates the first instance of a cookie table in her family to her mother’s wedding in the 1940s.
“She can remember people showing up with bushels of cookies,” she said.
She believes the practice originated around that time and became more organized and formal over the decades as people started asking different guests to bring different kinds of sweets.
One visitor, Gina Super of Green Tree, Allegheny County, said her daughter’s wedding this summer will be her first time planning a cookie table. She was looking forward to talking to different vendors because she expects to need help.
“I didn’t expect it to be this large,” she said of the cookie college.
During last year’s holiday season, the Facebook group helped spread complaints by bakers that the tips of Hershey’s famous milk chocolate kisses – the centerpiece of the popular cookie known as the peanut butter blossom – were missing.
Anna Lingeris, one of several Hershey representatives who were at Saturday’s event, said she’d contacted Magone and met with her following that publicity and struck up a friendship.
She said the company had “worked tirelessly to have the kisses looked at, evaluated, to make sure that we are making a product that fits your expectations.” She said 1,000 packages of the new kisses, made just this week, would be passed out that day – a few months before they’ll hit stores.
“There is absolutely, unequivocally, nothing wrong with the ones (currently) on the shelf,” Lingeris said. “These are just a little bit prettier.”
Hershey was also testing out mini kisses the company may decide to sell, allowing attendees to pick the favorite of three recipes featuring the candy, whose size is between a normal kiss and a chocolate chip.
The winning one will be on the product’s package if the company ultimately decides to roll it out.
“It was a great opportunity to come to passionate bakers to get their ideas,” said associate brand manager Kristi Valerino, who was working the sample table.