St. Joseph and a Pastry


It wouldn’t be St. Joseph’s Day without Zeppole. Many Rhode islanders partake of this tasty treat once a year (even those who gave up sweets for Lent, since fasting is not obligatory on a solemnity). It is a simple dessert: fried dough filled with cream, custard, or ricotta; topped with powdered sugar and finished with a cherry. Of course, there are many varieties of the classic treat (some even have anchovy filling, but you would have to go to Sicily to have that). But where did this unique dessert come from and how is it connected to St. Joseph?
Many sources point to a Neapolitan baker named Pasquale Pintauro as the inventor. In the 1800s he created and popularized this dessert, which made its way to the United States through Italian immigrants.
Discovering why we eat it on St. Joseph’s Day is a bit more difficult. Some say that when the Holy Family arrived in Egypt, St. Joseph sold pancakes to provide for the family, and since then he has been associated with desserts.
Another origin story relates the Italian word “zeppola” with “zeppa”, which means wedge. As a carpenter, St. Joseph would have used wedges in his craftsmanship; hence the connection. Still others see in the red cherry and shape a reminder of iconography surrounding the saint (particularly the flowering rod he carries).
Regardless of the exact connection, our Catholic sensibilities rejoices in connecting a pleasure of this life with one of our greatest saints.