While St. Patrick’s Day, with its soda bread, green beer, corned beef and cabbage, seems to draw attention in mid-March, another saint has a feast day with its own culinary traditions.
St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, honors the man most Christians consider to be the adoptive or earthly father of Jesus Christ. In Italy, where Saint Joseph is beloved, the feast of Saint Joseph coincides with the national celebration of Father’s Day.
According to legend, a drought in Sicily in the Middle Ages resulted in failing crops and starving people. People were praying to Saint Joseph, and after the rains came and plots were planted, a celebration was held to honor the saint. Wealthy families prepared hearty feasts which they shared with the less fortunate. This became known as the Tavola di San Giuseppe (Table of St. Joseph).
St. Joseph’s altars can be found in churches throughout Sicily, but the tradition is generally more popular in areas of the United States where Italians – particularly Sicilians – have settled.
Amy Preziosi was born in a small town in the province of Avvelino, south of Naples, Italy, and did not hear of the custom of St. Joseph’s Tables until she immigrated to Rochester in the age of 13.
“For us it was something new,” she said. “I remember going to people’s homes and they had this elaborate variety of meatless foods.”
Now Preziosi is an active volunteer at the Italian American Community Center, near Manitou Road in Gates. Until the pandemic, the center observed the feast of St. Joseph with a mass for St. Joseph in the nearby chapel of St. Padre Pio. After mass, members would head to the community center where a St. Joseph table offered an abundance of meatless foods, including rice, pasta, fish, frittatas, vegetables and more.
This would be followed by a three-tiered Altar of St. Joseph which contained a statue of St. Joseph, loaves of St. Joseph, flowers, candles, celery, and oranges. “It was magnificent,” Preziosi said. People would be sent home with bags full of an orange and a panino.
Pre-pandemic, you will also find tables or altars of St Joseph in many churches and businesses in the Rochester area.
Most of those celebrations have been canceled since 2020. But this year, Savastano’s Bakery & Pizzeria in Gates will have a St. Joseph’s Table for customers on March 19. Our Mother of Sorrows, a Catholic church in Greece, will observe the day by handing out take-out bags filled with St. Joseph bread, an orange and a St. Joseph prayer card after masses this weekend.
Bakeries continue to bake treats associated with the holiday for people to celebrate at home. St. Joseph’s breads are made in a variety of flavors and shapes, many of which have religious symbolism.
Two other treats associated with the day are Sfingi di San Giuseppe (usually just called “sfingi” in Rochester), as well as zeppoli. These can vary from place to place, but in Rochester it’s usually fried sweet bread dough filled with a ricotta or custard filling.
Here are some of the places where you can find Saint Joseph breads, sfingi and zeppoli.
Bakery and pizzeria in Savastano
Savastano’s Bakery & Pizzeria makes brilliant St. Joseph breads flavored with anise and sprinkled with diced fruit.
They can be ordered plain or garnished with sesame seeds. Some are frosted, some are not. It also offers St. Joseph rolls in two sizes. She also donates decorative loaves of St. Joseph to churches.
A secret ingredient for all his holy breads: a drop or two of holy water.
The breads are available for several days until March 19 and can be ordered until Easter.
Go: 477 Spencerport Road, Gates; 585-247-0448; savastanosbakerypizzeria.com.
Savoia Pastry Shoppe makes its soft and shiny St. Joseph breads in a variety of shapes, including canes, hearts, fish and crowns. They are sprinkled with sesame seeds. They will be available until March 19.
He also makes sfingi and zeppole; his sfingi are also sold at Rubino’s Italian Food Market, 1304 East Ridge Road in Irondequoit.
Go: 2267 Clifford Ave., Rochester; 585-482-1130; savoiapastry.com.
Etna Italian Pastry
Etna Italian Pastry Shop will have sfingi and zeppole until Easter. It is a hand-formed fried pasta filled with a choice of custard or ricotta filling made to order.
Go: 1913 Long Pond Road, Gates; 585-429-6369; etnapastryshop.com.
Baker Street Bakery
Baker Street Bakery makes its St-Joseph breads with a brioche dough flavored with anise and fennel seeds. They are offered in the shape of a cross or a stick, plain or sprinkled with sesame seeds. They will be available until March 19.
Go: 745 Park Avenue, Rochester; 585-241-3120; bakerstbakery.com
Gaetano Bakery and Catering
At Gaetano’s Bakery and Catering, Phil “PJ” Noto bakes an anise-flavored St. Joseph bread sprinkled with golden raisins. It’s available now and will continue for as long as people buy it, until Easter.
It is made in an elongated shape, a “J” shape and a round loaf with a cross. Some are frosted and some are unfrosted.
The retail store at 1439 West Ridge Road in Greece has been closed since March 2020. St. Joseph’s breads are sold at:
• Pino’s Deli at 2590 West Ridge Road in Greece; call 585-227-8160;
• Tree Town Café at 745 Penfield Road in Brighton; call 585-348-9720;
• Special T Cakes & Desserts: 870 Long Pond Road in Greece; call 585-621-1515; and
• Skips Meat Market Fairport: 102 Fairport Village Landing in Fairport; call 585-377-5360.