Cookies Count in Pittsburgh

Chris Briem points out the that the Tuition Tax Affair landed Pittsburgh on the front page of the New York Times -- driving the final nail in the coffin of the national PR fantasy that Pittsburgh is flourishing in some kind of "renaissance" -- but he doesn't post on a different New York Times story today that arguably says much more about Pittsburgh's past and future. I infer that Chris doesn't read the Times' "Dining" section:

The Wedding? I’m Here for the Cookies

LIKE brides and bridegrooms the world over, the ones in this city and nearby towns bask in the glory of the white dress, the big kiss and the first dance.

But then, a large number of them happily cede the spotlight to a cookie. Or a few thousand of them.

For as long as anyone here can remember, wedding receptions in Pittsburgh have featured cookie tables, laden with dozens of homemade old-fashioned offerings like lady locks, pizzelles and buckeyes. For weeks ahead — sometimes months — mothers and aunts and grandmas and in-laws hunker down in the kitchen baking and freezing. Then, on the big day, hungry guests ravage the buffet, piling plates high and packing more in takeout containers so they can have them for breakfast the next day.

The fact that cookie tables are essential to Pittsburgh weddings is news to no one in the Burgh, I hope. And the vitality of the tradition confirms something that I've written before. The health of Pittsburgh's economy is better measured in terms of baked goods than in terms of other manufactured output. The progressive Cupcake Class in Pittsburgh has nothing on the classic Cookie Class, which was here before and which seems determined to survive forever.

If the supply of cookies to cookie tables really is as inelastic as the Times implies, then a modest cookie tax could be calculated that would close the pension shortfall - and have zero impact on the region's "renaissance PR" or on its students and colleges and universities.

Sure, it's a weird kind of "sin" tax, but let's classify it as a "consumption" tax, which is in vogue these days among tax reformers. Like many consumption taxes, it is modestly regressive. But I think that the citizens of the city could, er, stomach it.

So: Down with the Tuition Tax. Up with the Cookie Tax.


7 Responses to "Cookies Count in Pittsburgh"

Anonymous said... 12/16/2009 11:36 AM

I've lived in Western PA all my life and have never encountered this mythic "cookie table".

C. Briem said... 12/16/2009 12:35 PM

Speaking of food and Pittsburgh we both missed this in the NYT recently...  an update on cupcake-nomics.  Were we ahead of the curve? 

I dunno.. I am thinking you need to start a local foodie blog... will fill some of the time freed up from Blog-Lebo?

RoboticGhost said... 12/16/2009 12:55 PM

I was just about to post that link on Sir Briem's blog when it popped up in my Reader ere.

Personally, I love the cookie table wedding tradition. As near as I can tell, its the only wedding tradition in existence that wasn't cooked up by a Madison Avenue ad exec to bilk the peasantry out of a few more dollars.

Stephen Gross said... 12/16/2009 1:25 PM

I married a Pgh native in June of 2007. This was my first introduction to the phenomenon of the cookie table. Happily, the hotel provided a bevy of cookies so we didn't have to back a few hundred of them ourselves. We even provided take-home bags so guests could bring home their own cookies.

As for a cookie tax? Well, sure, maybe. I guess that would increase per-head wedding reception fees by maybe 25c. Could be workable :)

Jonathan Potts said... 12/16/2009 2:01 PM

Students may not vote in signficant numbers. But the grandmothers and great-aunts who bake the lion's share of those cookies most certainly do.

Miller said... 12/16/2009 2:06 PM

Public Service Tax.

carpetbaggery said... 12/16/2009 5:05 PM

After the reception, there could also be a "nookie tax"!

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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