St. Joseph’s day is celebrated on March 19th. It is a Catholic feast day commemorating the life of St. Joseph. He is the Patron Saint of several regions in Italy and therefore is the protector of many Italian and Italian-American people.
In the Italian –American community that I grew up in, this was an important feast day. When families gathered together to celebrate this holiday, you were honoring the saint that watched over you, your family and many times the birth land of your relatives. It was a day when you were particularly prideful about your Italian heritage.
In many families as an homage to the Catholic Church, children were often named after Roman Catholic Saints. In many Italian families, so the story was passed down through my family, a child was always named after St. Joseph.
Growing up, we were always mindful of the importance of March 19th. We were taught not only to understand the religious significance of the holiday, but the broader meaning of this day as well. For many of us in the Italian-American community, the pride we felt about hearing stories about our relatives coming over from Italy and finding a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, this was a day of reflection on such accomplishments.
For us, a typical St Joseph’s day was a simple celebration, you went and visited relatives who were named after this saint, and wished them “Happy Name Day”. You wore red colored clothing and ate Italian food for dinner. After dinner you would have an Italian pastry called a Zeppole for dessert.
Every family had their own twist to this holiday, but this is how we did ours. It is a pretty sublime celebration. The holiday seemed to revolve around the food and the symbolism of the feast day.
We were lucky because we had a relative named after this saint in our immediate family. My grandmother’s name was Josephine, her Italian name was Giuseppina but everyone called her Josephine or Jo.
We would make the pilgrimage to Nana’s house every March 19th to wish her a “Happy St. Joseph’s day and Happy Name Day”.
There was always so many people coming over and wishing her well on her special day. Everyone always had some piece of red clothing on. Nana always wore her special red scarf for this day, it was only brought out on this special occasion.
We would all gather for at her house and have dinner. I will always remember the vast amounts of Zeppole’s that people brought. Every time someone came over, each one came in with a new box of Zeppole from the bakery. That was the fun part because each bakery had a slight variation on this dessert.
I realized that when I speak about Zeppole, there are many different variations of this treat. I am talking about the classic Neapolitan version of this dessert.
What is a Zeppole? Zeppole (pronounced ZAY-poe-la) is a St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puff. The shells are pastry dough, like that of a cream puff. They can be baked or fried then filled with cream. The filling can be traditional custard or a cannoli like (ricotta) filling. It is garnished with a sweetened cherry and dusted with powdered sugar.
A traditional Zeppole is piped through a pastry bag so it has the disincentive ridges in it. The shape of the Zeppole is important. It is round and fashioned after a carpenter’s tool because St. Joseph was a carpenter. This is how you can distinguish it from other desserts.
They taste just like cross between creampuff and an éclair, but so much better. Honestly, words are just not able to describe this luscious treat. Weather you eat them baked or fried, with a cooked cream or ricotta filling, they are just a heavenly treat.
Perhaps due to the fact they only come out once a year, and when they are gone you have to wait until next year. Maybe that is what makes them so delicious. I am not sure, but I highly recommend that you try them if you can.
So on every March 19th, this is what I do. I whip up a batch of Zeppole, make a delicious Italian meal and wear red. We all gather around the table, have a big family dinner and have a Zeppole in Grandma Jo’s honor.
I have learned through the years how to make these tasty treats and I wanted to share my recipe. The recipe is for the basic Zeppole shell is a simple one. I fill it with chilled vanilla pudding mixed with whipped cream. You could also fill it with a cannoli style filling or a cooked cream.
A Zeppole is a perfect ending a St. Joseph’s day meal. Remember you don’t need to be Italian to celebrate this this holiday or make this dessert. Like Grandma Jo used to tell everyone, “we are all Italian on St. Joseph’s day, now come and eat a Zeppole”.
Try a Zeppoleif you have never had one, you might just like it.
Buona Festa di San Giuseppe to all.
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 1 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
Heat oven to 400ºF. In 2 1/2-quart saucepan, heat water and butter to rolling boil. Stir in flour; reduce heat to low. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.
On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by slightly less than 1/4 cupful’s about 3 inches apart. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool away from draft, about 30 minutes.
I don’t pipe the dough through the pastry bag, if you have one you can use it to get the perfectly round and ridged shape like they do at the bakeries.
To make the Zeppole: Cut the shells in half, scoop out any soggy dough. Spoon in the filling, garnish with a maraschino cherry and dust it with powdered sugar.
Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.
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