‘I think they wait all year for this’: In RI, you can always find zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day

Street Stories

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ It’s a treat thousands of Rhode Islanders line up for every year.

The zeppola has become a St. Joseph’s Day staple. It’s a cream-filled pastry that bakeries across the state crank out by the dozens.

Don Petrillo, owner of the Original Italian Bakery in Johnston, said the zeppola is a symbol of something Saint Joseph used to use regularly.

“Saint Joseph, when he was a carpenter, he used to use a plain,” Petrillo said. “The top of the plain would have a handle on it … that’s where the zeppole came from.”

For Petrillo, filling zeppole is an art form. (In the video above, Petrillo shows 12 News anchor Mike Montecalvo how to make zeppole.)

“If you keep going and do it a couple of hundred times, you might get it,” Petrillo said.

In total, Petrillo expects to sell 40,000 zeppole before the weekend is over. He also expects to sell an additional 30,000 by Easter Sunday. He said out of all of the flavors of zeppole the bakery sells, the traditional cream ones are the most popular.

But St. Joseph’s Day isn’t just about zeppole.

It’s also a day where Italian’s around the world take time to remember their faith and heritage.

“Saint Joseph was the patron saint of the worker, and most of the Italian immigrants that lived here when I was a little boy were mostly laborers and hard-working people,” retired Italo American Club president Anthony “Nappy” Napolitano said.

Napolitano grew up on Federal Hill and said he remembers the old days when they would take the statue of Saint Joseph out of Holy Ghost Church and march through the streets with it.

“The old tradition in Italy is you pin the money on the saint,” Napolitano said. “But you couldn’t because it was too high up. So we had four or five guys with the boxes and we used to collect the money and give it to the church.”

The coronavirus pandemic is preventing the procession of the statue this year, but it’s not stopping everyone from picking up their zeppole.

“I think they wait all year for this particular holiday, especially Italian people, but I think it’s everybody now,” Petrillo said.

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