The Zeppole di San Giuseppe are a typical Neapolitan dessert consumed mainly on March 19, a day dedicated to St. Joseph and, in Italy, Father’s Day.
The origin of Zeppole
Surely the zeppole recipe is also very old, it is even likely to date back to Roman times. In fact, on March 17 during the Liberalia, a festival in honour of the divinities dispensing wheat and wine, wheat pancakes cooked in boiling lard were prepared. It is therefore likely that this tradition was maintained in the Christian era, moving from Liberalia to the Feast of St. Joseph, set just two days away.
Even Goethe, traveling around Italy between 1786 and 1788, tells us in his travel diary how the streets of Naples, on St. Joseph day, were full of “frittaroli”, the name given to street vendors frying and selling zeppole. In 1837 the gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino, published the recipe for zeppole in his Treatise on Theoretical-Practical Cuisine, written in Neapolitan.
Therefore, if the origin of the dessert is to be found in the sweet fritters that have always been prepared on various holiday occasions, it is interesting to find out how the name and special shape of St. Joseph zeppole are born. The name probably derives from the Latin word “serpula“, which means snake, and could refer to the shape of the zeppole which is reminiscent of a coiled snake. To give this shape to the pancakes were probably the nuns of San Gregorio Armeno, but there are also those who believe that the shape and the definitive recipe of the zeppole were developed in the first half of the eighteenth century by the famous Neapolitan pastry chef Pintauro, who also defined the recipe for the legendary sfogliatelle.
Our family story
Coming to us, as always, the things that are missing when you emigrate abroad are those small family habits and the flavours associated with them, such as St. Joseph’s zeppole to be enjoyed on Father’s Day. Violetta therefore had to learn how to prepare them and, since in England Father’s Day is celebrated on another date, she felt it was appropriate to prepare them both on March 19 and the third Sunday of June, to compensate for the fact that she no longer can comfortably buy them in any pastry shop.
A nice family episode is also associated with the zeppole. Violetta has a nephew, Lorenzo, who is only two months younger than Francesca. It can therefore be said that the two grew up almost like twins, attending the same school for several years and spending the afternoons at Grandma Bianca’s house. Lorenzo was also often at Violetta’s house, and spent numerous holidays in the mountains or by the sea with their family. To keep it short, a kind of step-son, and after all Maurizio is also his godfather.
On March 19, I don’t really remember of which year, Violetta asked Maurizio to stop by the pastry shop on his way back from work to buy zeppole for their family, to conclude dinner with the much-loved dessert and to celebrate Father’s Day. She also told Maurizio to buy just one each.
Maurizio arrived at home with his package, and when they opened it at the end of dinner, there were five zeppole. “Why did you buy five?” Violetta asked. “Because you told me to get one each” replied Maurizio. As you know by now, their family is made up of only four people, Violetta, Maurizio, Francesca and Federico. Well, the fifth was for Lorenzo, who obviously was at his home celebrating his father.
Since then, every time something more is prepared, it is said that it is for Lorenzo. It is a pity, however, that now, to come and claim his portion, he would have to get on a plane.