Sunday, March 19, 2006



Isabella has been away tending to personal business, but now she’s ready to do some blogging!

March 19 is as important to Italian families as March 17 is to Irish families.

March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph, who is the patron saint of Italy.

My nonna (grandmother) made a promise to St. Joseph that if he granted her something she had prayed for, that she would make a St. Joseph’s day feast for all her family. Apparently, her request was granted, and so she set out to fulfill her promise.

A representation of the Holy Family is chosen from the family. Some older cousin (can’t rememer who it was) was chosen to represent St. Joseph, a younger cousin, Paul who was 3 or 4 took the part of the child Jesus, and I was chosen to be the Virgin Mary. I was only 8 or 9 so that wasn’t a stretch.

My grandmother prepared 5 or 6 versions of the traditional Italian dishes that made up a typical Italian dinner. So my grandmother made 5 different soup courses, pasta courses, fish courses, meat courses, vegetable courses, and then a huge variety of sweets. But the most important of those were the zeppoli!

The job of the Holy Family representatives was to bless each dish and to taste a tiny morsel of it before the rest of the friends and relatives dug in to the feast. Needless to say, by the time we got to the pasta courses, Paul and I were not in good shape. I developed a miserable tummy ache, and Paul vomited into the first fish dish. I don’t remember what happened to cousin St. Joseph. Maybe he went into the garage to make some shelves!

Here is a brief description of how this tradition got started and how the delicious zeppoli are associated with it.

And Happy St. Joseph’s Day to all!

The tradition of St. Joseph's Day began when there was a severe drought in Sicily in the middle ages. The island of Sicily greatly depends on rain because most of the year is dry, and rain falls for only about three months. Sicily was, and is, very agricultural specializing in lemons, grapes, wheat, olives and an array of fruits. The people of Sicily were losing hope, and in desperation they asked St. Joseph, their patron, to help. They promised him that if rain came, they would prepare a large feast in his honor. The tradition says these prayers were answered with rainy weather. In gratitude, huge banquet tables were set up in public, and the poor people of Sicily were invited to come and eat as much as they wanted.

The families of farmers and fisherman built altars in their homes to share their good fortune with others in need. St. Joseph's Day altars began as a custom and then brought to the states by Sicilian immigrants. The tradition of building the altar to St. Joseph dates back to the drought, and it served as a gift of thanks for St. Joseph. The tradition grew to a more public event on St. Joseph's Feast Day on March 19. Today, special foods, linens, flowers, and statuary adorn the St. Joseph's Altar, which is built with three steps representing the Holy Trinity.

Perhaps the most well known of these special foods is the zeppole. For those who aren't familiar with Italian grammar, "zeppole" is singular and "zeppoli" is plural.
Also called "St. Joseph Day cakes," zeppoli are a huge part of the St. Joseph Day celebration. Zeppoli are Italian bread dough that are either fried or baked. The filling is usually a custard, but some bakeries use cannoli filling. Some older recipes, straight from our Italian grandmothers' cookbooks, call for the cakes to be filled with ricotta cheese, pureed chickpeas, oil of cinnamon or grape jelly. They look similar to a donut, but are a lot more satisfying. However, despite their size everyone eats at least two or three, or even four. The sweet and delicate pastry, flavored with a hint of cream and one or two bits of candied cherry, is so tasty they become quite addictive.

Hi Isabella!

So glad to see you posting again. What a lovely story ... and I especially loved the part about you and your cousins being chosen to represent the Holy Family.

I had forgotten that yesterday was San Giuseppe ... fortunately I have had zeppole and they are truly a treat not to be missed!
"I was only eight or nine, so that wasn't a stretch." Damn, I've missed you! So glad you are back!
The cakes sound divine, Isabella. I must get back to Italy one day to reaquaint myself with the baking & pastries there!

Nice to see you back.
hi isabell when is your feast day/
my family does zeppoli w/powdered sugar too, but we've always cooked up a mess of italian sausage w/onions and peppers and it didn't take long before the zeppoli and the sausage w/ some sauce became tradition. Makes a hell of a sandwich, but youve got to make the zeppoli a little bigger!

Brian in Oregon
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