Why Southerners Love an Occasion Cookie

We’ll bet you’ve never been to a party without them.

Highland Park Pie Lady iced sugar cookie
Photo: Courtesy of Highland Park Pie Lady

You've seen them at just about every Southern gathering, from bridesmaids' luncheons to baby showers: sugar cookies flooded with royal icing and intricately decorated to reflect the celebration of the day. Sometimes served as the event's main dessert and other times gifted as a party favor, these cookies make any day feel like just that—an occasion.

That's the sweetness of them, says Reggie Beuttenmuller, better known in Dallas as the Highland Park Pie Lady, who also happens to make festively piped cookies by the dozen.

"When the pandemic hit, I literally lost all my corporate and wedding business because we didn't have those events anymore," she says. "But my business exploded because people wanted something special for every little [occasion]."

Orders for pandemic pick-me-up cookies, which Beuttenmuller decorated to look like pills, came in droves. "I made thousands! People bought them and dropped them off on their quarantined friends' porches," she says. "I think a really pretty iced cookie that tastes good just makes everybody happy!"

And now that people's social calendars are ramping up again, the home baker is whipping up cookies for every kind of celebration you can imagine. Just this week, she's making cookies that run the gamut from hand-painted gold statuette-shaped treats for an Oscars party to personalized pink gingham sweets for a baby girl's christening to edible tennis ball place cards for a group of sporty friends. "And that's only what's on my table right now," she says.

Southern Living Test Kitchen pro Ivy Odom also has ideas about why Southern hosts and guests love an occasion cookie so much. "I was always taught to dress for the theme," she says. "It seems fitting the cookies are dressed for it too." Beyond that, she notes, the customizable sweets fall in line with the Southern affinity for monogramming anything that doesn't move. "It's nice that you can add personalization to them, like initials and baby names."

Beuttenmuller also likes to make themed cookies to accompany gift cards for teachers, coaches, and carpool buddies. It makes the gift cards feel a bit more personal and thoughtful, she notes.

Even so, a cleverly decorated cookie doesn't always need to come with a gift card; these treats feel like little surcies in and of themselves, bringing smiles and spreading joy—no matter the occasion.

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