For Many In RI, St. Joseph's Day Means Zeppole

Mar 20, 2017

Italian-American enclaves around the country celebrated St. Joseph’s day Sunday. This holiday comes with its own culinary tradition – a luscious pastry called a zeppole.

In the kitchen at La Salle Bakery in Providence Rhode Island – a state where zeppole are famous -- a team of bakers furiously prepare. They know lines will be forming to snap up this seasonal treat.

Mike Manni finishes off zeppole with a maraschino cherry.
Credit John Bender / RIPR

Mike Manni is a baker, and the owner of La Salle Bakery. Zeppole – or zeppola singular – a kind of a super deluxe cream puff.

“Right now they’re topping the zeppoles,”said Manni. “So the same cream that’s inside they’re putting on the tops. For extra calories.”

Here you can get your zeppole baked or the traditional way – fried – says Manni. La Salle Bakery is a family affair. Manni’s father, also Mike, owned this shop until his retirement a few years ago. Now the elder Manni only comes in when they need ringers, like today. Zeppole are finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar and a maraschino cherry. They’re then laid onto crinkly white papers. Bakers then slide tray after tray of zeppole, onto racks, ready to be sold.

Racks of zeppole at La Salle Bakery
Credit John Bender / RIPR

La Salle Bakery has been churning out thousands of these bad boys each March since 1932. For years piped out by hand, but now by machine, says Manni.

“So whether you’re doing them with the machine or by hand, there’s absolutely no difference,” said Manni. “It’s just you don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome in your hands.

The treat became famous in Italy, and then traveled the Atlantic with waves of Italian immigrants, many of whom settled in the Ocean State. But Manni-the-elder said it doesn’t take a saint to get people to eat good food.

Mike Manni tops zeppole with pastry cream. Manni owned La Salle Bakery before his recent retirement. No he only comes in to help on days on busy days.
Credit John Bender / RIPR

“Everybody celebrates around food,” said Manni. “And so when you have the right mix of a quality product, a celebration, that ‘oh it’s St. Joseph’s Day, let’s eat a zeppola.’

Standing in line waiting for a zeppola, June Spencer of Lincoln, Rhode Island agreed. She said it wouldn’t be St. Joseph’s day without one.

“It’s just a tradition, it’s an Italian pastry, and it’s part of the celebration of St. Joseph’s day,” said Spencer. “You know, with a big Italian dinner, and it just makes it more festive”.

If all of this is making you hungry, and you want to get to your nearest bakery – better call ahead. Zeppole are popular, sell out fast and are hard to come by.