Happy St. Joseph’s Day!
Yes, there is another saint worth celebrating in March other than that snake charmer St. Patrick.
If you are Italian or Italian-American you may already be acquainted with St. Joseph and the yearly celebrations that occur on his feast day.
You may also know there is one deep-fried dessert that is the official St. Joseph’s Day Pastry.
If you’re not sure what it is, we’ll give you some hints. Golden brown, perfectly fluffy, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. That’s right… Zeppoles, authentic Italian donuts.
But, how did this tasty treat become the star of St. Joseph’s Day dessert tables?
Follow along as we delve into the legends, myths, and origin stories of the legendary Zeppole.
If you’re in Italy, you may also hear them called Zeppole di San Giuseppe, Bignè di San Giuseppe, Fritelle di San Giuseppe, and Sfinci di San Giuseppe. Wow, that is a lot of names.
What is St. Joseph’s Day?
For those who are more acquainted with St. Patrick than St. Joseph, here is a quick review of everything you need to know.
St. Joseph’s Day is the feast day of Saint Joseph, who was the husband of Mary, and the stepfather of Jesus. Also called the Feast or Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Joseph’s feast day is celebrated every year on March 19th. St. Joseph’s Day is also Father’s Day in Italy and several other European countries.
One of the highlights of St. Joseph’s Day celebrations is the St. Joseph’s Day altar known in Italy as “la tavola di San Giuseppe.” Each altar is elaborately decorated with candles, flowers, wine, and food such as bread, pasta, and fava beans. St. Joseph’s Day always occurs during Lent, so many of the dishes traditionally served are meatless. For dessert, there is one item that every St. Joseph’s Day altar needs and that’s Zeppoles.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE to read further about the rich history and traditions of St. Joseph’s Day in Italy and in America.
Why Do We Eat Zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day?
We now know that Zeppoles are the star pastry of St. Joseph’s Day celebrations in Italy and here in America. But the question remains: Why are Zeppoles the Official St. Joseph’s Day Pastry?
There are a couple of prevailing theories with some legends, tails, and outright guesses mixed in. We scoured the internet, and present below the most popular hypotheses.
The Roman Festival of Liberalia
In ancient Rome, there was a particular festival, the Liberalia, that was celebrated on March 17th – only two days before St. Joseph’s Day. It was not uncommon for many religious holidays to be scheduled on the same day or very close to ancient or pagan celebrations. St. Joseph’s feast day of March 19th was first chosen by the Roman Catholic Church in 1479.
The Liberalia was a celebration of two Roman gods – Bacchus, god of wine, and Silenus, god of wheat. To honor the gods in their celebrations, revelers would drink copious amounts of wine and cook wheat pancakes or fritters. These wheat pancakes were cooked by boiling the dough in hot lard and then sprinkling it with sugar or cinnamon.
Some food historians contend that these Roman-era wheat fritters were an early progenitor of today’s Zeppoles and that the Liberalia festival morphed into St. Joseph’s Day.
St. Joseph’s Flight to Egypt
A less popular theory, with even less proof, recounts St. Joseph fleeing with his family to Egypt after Jesus’ birth. Upon his arrival in Egypt, he had to find work. Perhaps there was no work for him in his chosen trade as a carpenter. So, Joseph became a frittellaro, a maker of fried pastry.
This story started Joseph’s association with fried pastries and of course Zeppoles are the number one deep fried dessert. So voila, Zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day. Some people mistakenly believe St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs and confectioners. But this is not the case. Instead, St. Joseph is the patron saint of “families, fathers, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers and working people.”
The Great Medieval Drought in Sicily
Picture this… Medieval Sicily in the 10th century. A severe draught has gripped the Mediterranean island and crops are beginning to fail. The fear of famine is palpable. Sicilian villagers and townspeople pray to their patron saint, St. Joseph, for rain.
Shortly thereafter, the rains arrived, the draught ended and widespread famine was averted. In thanks for St. Joseph’s intercession on their behalf, Sicilians promised to honor St. Joseph every year with an elaborate feast of foods and desserts with one of the main pastry treats being another early predecessor of the Zeppole.
Pastry Chef Extraordinaire Don Pasquale Pintauro of Naples
More recent lore, and the most likely of our tales, brings us to nineteenth century Naples. Don Pasquale Pintauro was a well-known pastry chef who is credited with the invention of another delectable pastry, the sfogliatella. This flaky pastry with its distinctive shell or lobster tailed shape, is often filled with ricotta flavored with orange, almond paste, or candied citron peel.
Pintauro discovered an old recipe for Zeppoles and tested them out. He quickly realized the potential popularity of the pastry and began selling them from a street cart in Naples. Guess on what day he started selling them. Yup… It was St. Joseph’s Day. Ever since then, Zeppoles became synonymous with the feast of St. Joseph.
Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day with Zeppoles spread throughout Italy with the Zeppoles taking on different variations depending on regional influences. Then, Italian immigrants brought this tradition with them to America where Zeppoles are still baked and sold in time for St. Joseph’s Day.
Zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day is now both an Italian and an Italian-American tradition. But everyone gets to reap the rewards from these delectable pastry bites.
Enjoy Zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day!
St. Joseph’s Day celebrations only happen once a year, but you can eat Zeppoles all year long.
Now it’s easier than ever before to enjoy these delectable treats. You no longer need to wait for St. Joseph’s Day, the New Jersey boardwalk, or a carnival to enjoy the piping hot crunchy taste of these authentic Italian donuts.
Boardwalk Zeppoles, a New Jersey-based and family-owned company, is now bringing zeppoles right to your doorstep. With Boardwalk Zeppoles you can go from freezer to oven to table in a mere 12 minutes.
Boardwalk Zeppoles’ traditional Italian recipe was perfected by owner and New Jersey native, Maria Pacillo, to bring the real Zeppole experience from the boardwalk to your home.
Your order of Zeppoles from Boardwalk Zeppoles can be enjoyed the traditional way with powdered sugar or you can dip them in one of our sweet or savory dips like our Peanut Butter Nutella Oreo Dip or our Savory Spinach Artichoke Dip.
Surprise your friends and family with these freshly made treats – the perfect addition to your St. Joseph’s Day celebrations, game day gatherings, or a midnight snack.
CLICK HERE to order your Boardwalk Zeppoles now!