Growing up on the Canadian Prairies, the bridal & baby showers I attended (although I'll admit I didn't attend many before my own wedding & move to Toronto) were simple, homespun affairs -- a dozen or two women gathered in someone's basement rec room or church hall, some veggie & fruit trays with dip and/or maybe a few salads, little sandwiches and punch, and then a few platters of squares or "dainties," as we'd call them, along with cake, to have with your coffee or tea.
(I had two showers before my own wedding. The first was hosted by my aunt in her basement rec room. There were about 20-30 women there, mostly relatives, who all chipped in to buy me several place settings of my chosen china. (Stephanie, by Royal Doulton, for the record -- now discontinued.) The second was a surprise come & go luncheon, hosted by my mother's neighbour on her spacious deck. About 20 neighbours, coworkers and people I'd met through my work, came by on their lunch hours (it was a weekday & they had to get back to work) to wish me well. They'd all chipped in to buy me some towels, a hamper, toothbrush holder and accessories for our bathroom. My family had only lived in the town for a little over a year and I was tickled and touched.)
So my mind was completely blown when I moved to the Toronto area & began attending showers for my Italian-Canadian in-laws. I've been to a few basement or (in the summer) backyard showers, but these tend to be the exception, not the rule. It's not uncommon to hold showers in a banquet hall (often the same banquet hall where the wedding reception will be held), or in an (Italian) restaurant. Nor is it uncommon for the guest list to number between 50 and 100 women, or for the menu to run several courses, almost as elaborate as the wedding meal itself.
I was also introduced to a new (to me) tradition/phenomenon: the cookie table.
Italian bridal (& baby) showers and weddings hereabouts traditionally feature a massive sweet/dessert table, with hundreds of dozens of cookies baked (often over many months, and stored in the freezer) by mothers and aunts and other friends and relatives. These are mounded onto trays and sprinkled with confetti (not the paper stuff that you throw at the bride & groom, but sugar-covered almonds) and sometimes Hershey's Kisses or other tiny chocolates. Not only are the cookies for guests to feast on while they're at the party, but everyone lines up with a paper plate (which gets covered in aluminium foil) -- or a Styrofoam clamshell container or a Chinese food takeout container -- and fills it up with cookies to take home too. Dh would happily pounce on the container I'd filled specially with him in mind, munching on the goodies he remembered his mother & aunts making from his childhood.
After 30+ years of living here and going to Italian showers and weddings, I was reminded of the uniqueness of this custom when I went to a shower earlier this spring, where the groom's family was not Italian, and were clearly bewildered when everyone started lining up, clamshell containers in hand. "What's happening? What are we doing now?" I heard one puzzled woman ask. And then the explanations started.
An online friend from the Pittsburgh area expressed surprise when I mentioned the cookie table to her -- she thought it was a Pittsburgh thing. Guess not (although several of the articles I found online about cookie tables specifically mentioned it as a western Pennsylvania thing -- even a local GTA-based newspaper!).
Do the showers and weddings where you live feature a cookie table?
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So -- when Oldest Nephew announced his engagement, I told SIL that I would be happy to contribute cookies for Fiancee's bridal shower, if needed. I don't have any traditional Italian recipes for biscotti or amaretti or pizzelles in my repertoire, but (as I posted here), I do bake cookies now & then. ;)
I'd made some simple graham cracker snacks recently for the nephews that my mother has made since my sister & I were kids. (The original recipe came from one of my grandmother's neighbours.) They went like hotcakes. And SIL told me that Fiancee asked her, "Do you think Aunt Lori would make some of those for my shower?"
"Seriously??!" I said. "It's not exactly traditional Italian cookie table stuff."
"I don't want traditional," Fiancee insisted, when I made that comment to her.
Well, whatever the bride wants...!
And so, this is what I did earlier today:
Six pans, 28 cracker squares each... you do the math. Needless to say I was pretty tired by the time the last pan came out of the oven. But hey, isn't this what aunties are for?? :)
Graham Crispie Bars
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease a cookie sheet & cover the pan with graham crackers in a single layer, side by side (about 24-28 cracker squares, depending on the size of your pan).
In a saucepan on the stovetop, over medium-low heat, melt 1/2 cup of butter & stir in 3/4 cup of brown sugar until thoroughly dissolved and slightly bubbly. Spread the mixture over the crackers & sprinkle with nuts (I used slivered almonds; we've also used walnuts in the past -- about 1/2 cup).
Pop in the oven and bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cool & break apart.
That's it! So simple. If you like sugar, you'll love this. ;) I have friends who make a similar recipe with soda crackers, the brown sugar/butter mix, and then a layer of melted chocolate on top. One friend makes it at Christmas & calls it "Christmas crack." ;)
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A few articles about the cookie table tradition:
The wedding? I'm here for the cookies (New York Times)
In Pittsburgh, the wedding cookie table is a peculiar and wonderful local tradition (National Post)
An Ode to the Italian Cookie Table – how would we celebrate without it? (An Italian Canadian Life blog)
What's a Wedding Without Cookies? (NPR)