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An Outsiders Guide to the Zeppole

This may be called “Insider’s Guide” but for some Rhode Island quirks, the more fascinating perspective is that of the doe-eyed outsider. 

by Grace Kelly (former outsider)

There are many quirks that outsiders may scratch their heads at when they arrive in the 401. Water fountains are called ‘bubblas,’ there’s a weird fascination with cold pizza with no cheese, and the person who cuts your hair is also your cousin Vinny’s stepmother.

Let’s add another oddity to the list, just for giggles.

The Zeppole. (Zay-poll-a or Zeh-poll-ee; how it’s pronounced depends on who you ask!)

It rolls off the tongue like those double “r”s you  learned in Spanish class in high school, except with less effort.

In the weeks leading up to March 19th, walk into any unassuming Italian Bakery in the state (Crugnale’s, DeLuise’s, Borrelli’s…pretty much pick a bakery ending in a vowel and you’re golden) and you will encounter it, a behemoth ball of pastry sprinkled in powdered sugar and topped with a cherry that seems to wink at you beneath the glass case. It’s zeppole season in Rhode Island.


Now let’s do some role playing.

Italian Bakery Owner (IBO): Ey! What can I do fuh yah? You’re a new face in an old place.

Outsider: Hi, um, I’m from (insert far-away place here. New Jersey doesn’t count) and I’m visiting my mother’s brother’s sister.  Why, whenever I come to Rhode Island in March, are those here **points to zeppoles in display case**but when I visit any other time there’s only cannolis?

IBO: Ma, che sei grullo?! **pinches fingers together and shakes hands**

Outsider: **Glances nervously at enthused IBO and the old men drinking espresso and laughing at him. **

IBO: St. Joseph’s Day bambino! March 19th! Only the third greatest holiday in the year after Easter and Christmas **says to the ceiling ‘San Guiseppe perdonami’** Leagues better than that leprechaun Saint Patrick’s Day!

Outsider: So, what does a dough ball filled with cream have to do with Saint Joseph? I didn’t think he was a glutton…

IBO: Dai! In the old days (Readers note: medieval Sicily) San Guiseppe saved Sicily from drought. His feast is a feast of bread and along with these babies we put up quite a spread to thank him.

Outsider: **Scratches head, glances at the zeppoles one more time and glances back at the IBO** Well, whatever the story is… I’ll take a dozen.

So, innocent outsider, there you have it. If you should be in Rhode Island the week of March 13th, forget St. Patrick’s Day and its corned beef and hit up a bakery for a dozen zeppole. Just don’t ask too many questions.

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