Joe Virgilio Makes Saint Joseph Rolls is a wonderful addition to Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Community Film Project. So many thanks to Joe for taking time from his busy work day to allow filming! Highlights include Joe sharing stories about the early days working alongside his grandfather and cousins, when the thousands of rolls needed for Saint Joseph’s Day were made by hand.
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Last night we strained and bottled (and sampled!) out-of-this-world-delicious limoncello. The first time I had ever tasted limoncello that I found to be enjoyable was while filming at the Groppo Family’s Feast of Saint Joseph celebration. Nina serves her icy cold homemade limoncello in the traditional tiny glasses and I think it is so much better tasting than commercially bottled preparations. The flavor of her limoncello is intensely lemony fresh, sweet, and tart all at the same time, without the alcohol burn on the way down.
The limoncello doesn’t look that appetizing in the pre-bottled stage.
As part of the film’s sequence on Feast preparations, Nina and friends Cathy Gunn, Kathy Pratl, and Jane Beddus very graciously agreed to allow me to film during the different steps of limocello-making, along with inviting me to participate and make my own batch! Nina and her family and friends have been so wonderfully helpful and accommodating with Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Community Film Project and I will be eternally grateful. Making limoncello with these sweet ladies has been so much fun and a wonderful reminder of the delight and joy that comes from sharing a project with friends.
Catherine Gunn, Nina Groppo, Janer Beddus, and Kathy Pratl
After bottling, we sampled each other’s batches, the reason being that they were all made in slightly different ways; several types of lemons were used, some had more vodka, and some had more simple syrup. Kathy pointed out that the because the recipe is so super simple, the only real error in making would be if you were to grate the lemons to close to the pith, which would make the beverage bitter.
Needless to say, we had a ball sampling all, as well as indulging in the beautiful array of cookies and treats prepared by Nina. To see more photos visit Jane Beddus’s FB page here.
The sieve we found to be the easiest and most effective for straining the pulp was a simple wooden flour sifter, used with cheese cloth, that Nina had purchased in Italy (see below in the Vine).
Left to right, front: Nina Groppo and Kathy Pratl; back: Jane Beddus and Catherine Gunn
This past weekend filming continued on the Feast of Saint Joseph Community Film Project. Nina and Frank Groppo serve the most wonderful homemade limoncello during the Feast and we decided back in March to include limoncello-making in the story of how Saint Joseph’s special day is celebrated in Gloucester. Nina, Kathy, Catherine, and Jane not only graciously agreed to allow filming, but also included me in the preparations and you’ll see what fun we had in the forthcoming film!
While at the Groppo’s garden you can’t help but notice their amazing crop of cucuzza (pronounced ku-koz-za, also goo-gootz), hanging from their handmade arbor. Cucuzza is an Italian squash that from what I understand, in English, means something like “super long squash.” A single squash can grow ten inches in one day!
For our first of several limoncello-making days, Nina created a beautiful lunch. She served cucuzza soup, made from both the fruit and the leaves. It was fabulous and delicious and like no other soup I had sampled before. She also baked wonderfully fresh hake filets and prepared a lovely tomato salad, with heirloom tomatoes from her garden.
Nina described how she hand pollinates the fruit ~ Each plant produces male and female flowers. She explains that it is easy to identify the female flowers as they have a small swollen fruit (ovary) on the stem, just behind the flowers. She plucks the male flowers off the vine and gently brushes together the male’s anther and female’s stigma, the flower’s reproduction parts, which insures good pollination. By removing the male flowers from the vine, you are not eliminating any potential fruit because the male flowers don’t bear fruit.
I have been planning an arbor for my garden patio for sometime and after seeing and tasting the Groppo’s fabulous cucuzza, I am not waiting any longer to build one!
Thank you dear Nina, Kathy, Catherine, and Jane for your continuing help with the Saint Joseph Film Project!
Yesterday, March 19th, The Feast of San Giuseppe was celebrated in Siciliain-American homes throughout Gloucester. Filming concluded last night for Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Community Film Project at the home of Nina and Frank Groppo.
I arrived shortly after 9:00 am to the Groppo home, already packed full of friends and family prepping and cooking and organizing the house to accomadate the multitudes expected. For fear of missing any wonderful moments, I was sorry to leave even briefly, but I needed to pick up the exquisite Sicilian cassata cake created by Maria, Nina, and Domenic at Caffe Sicilia.
Returning to the Groppos ~ After days of preparation, cooking was in high gear, with enormous pots of Saint Joseph sauce simmering, vats of oil bubbling, and everyone working at their jobs. One of the most amazing aspects of the Groppo feast preparations is that no one person is giving orders; everybody just knows what to do and does their job perfectly!
At 11:30 guests began to arrive, and arrive they did! Literally hundreds of friends and family poured through the Groppo’s welcoming doors throughout the day.
After the extraordinary feast–extraordinary for the variety of, and deliciousness of, traditional Sicilian dishes, a feast for several hundred guests, I should add–many stayed for the afternoon; for conversation, coffee, desert, more wine, and tidyng the house for the next wave of family and friends, which began to arrive at 4:30.
The most beautiful of all prayer services was held at 5:00, where at the conclusion everyone stood shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, singing, and praying. Nina gave a most heartfelt speech of thanksgiving and then everyone embraced. The loving spirit of Saint Joseph, and the love and kindness of family and friends sharing a tradition together, was felt by all. And then we ate again, the second feast of the day!
Filming at the Groppo Family’s Saint Joseph Feast was simply beyond wonderful and I have a trunk full of memories I will treasure all my life. My most heartfelt thanks to Nina and Frank Groppo, and to their their extended Family and Friends for more than just allowing filming during their cherished Feast of Saint Joseph preparations, novena, and feast day, but for for making me feel welcome and completely at home! The thing is, they make everyone feel that way. Many come to the Groppo’s Feast straight away from work, fisherman and marine railway workers eat alongside businessmen in suits, and all are welcome at the Groppo table.
Words cannot accurately express my gratitude and appreciation to all the families that participated in the filming of Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph community film project. My sincerest hope is that the film will hold stories and moments for all to treasure.
I think the most challenging part of the upcoming editing is going to be in following the documentary’s screenplay, which I wrote several years ago, about the history and significance of the traditions, while weaving together everyone’s stories, and including all the priceless, spontaneous moments captured on film.
This post is a little hurried and I would like to write more, but it is my son’s 21st Birthday celebration tonight. Time for birthday dinner cooking to get underway. Viva San Giuseppe!!!
Updates will be added periodically to the film’s website: Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Film Project
Filming continues for Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph community film project, today at the beautifully warm and welcoming home of Nina and Frank Groppo.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart Groppo Family and Friends. I could not have felt more welcomed. Your kindness and good-heartedness reflects the true spirit of the Feast of Saint Joseph tradition.
I arrived at Nina and Frank’s home early this morning, just as Groppo friends and family were beginning to stream through the door, with everyone carrying armfuls of breakfast treats. The first order of business was starting several batches of homemade ricotta cooking on the stove. After filming the ricotta-making, I headed to the garage where the men were getting set up for making pasta. They had prepared the dough the night before and were spreading white cloths on the tables and setting out many hand pasta cranks.
All morning more and more friends arrived to lend a helping hand. There were perhaps 50-75 people there in the kitchen and in the garage, and all working at super high speed shaping, rolling, flouring, cranking, stacking, and cooking. Mid-morning and it was time to take a break. Nina and her crew fed the entire pasta-making team steaming bowls of the most amazingly delicious fresh ricotta. I had never had freshly made ricotta and after observing how it is made, I would love to give it a try.
One of the tables that Frank and his crew had set up in the garage was for drying the pasta. As batches of pasta were rolled, cut, and floured, they spread the pasta on the tables to dry. The first batches quickly filled the tabletop. The men then placed wooden blocks on the table and retuned from the shed with a new tabletop to stack on top of the first, covered that with a fresh white cloth, and spread the next batch of pasta. This happened eight times, to total a tower of pasta nine tiers high. Extraordinary!!!
After all pasta-making was done, amidst much dancing and merry-making, it was time to eat again! Frank and his crew cooked pasta in the garage, while Nina and her team prepared a large stockpot filled with sauce, which she had made from her homegrown harvest of tomatoes. Everyone crowded around the stove for beautiful aromatic bowls of pasta and red sauce, topped with freshly grated cheese.
Continue here for several more photos ~
This morning we continued filming for Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph Film Project; today at Virgilio’s! So many thanks to Joe Virgilio for taking time from his busy, busy work day running the bakery.
We talked a bit about the history of Virgilio’s, founded in 1934, and at its current location since the 1950’s. At that time, Virgilios was not only a bakery, but a full grocery store as well (before there were supermarkets) and you could purchase goods such as whole chickens and sausages.
The Virgilios began making St. Joseph rolls in the early 1950s, specifically for the Feast of Saint Joseph and today, they make them year round. Back then, there were so many families that celebrated the Saint Joseph traditions that even as young kids, Joe and all his cousins had to hurry to the bakery after school to help their grandfather fill the St. Joseph roll orders. Now the bread is made with state of the art equipment but in his grandfather’s day it was all made by hand. Joe smiled thinking about how his grandfather would love today’s mixing and baking machines. I went home with a camera-full of stories and bag full of Joe’s bread, both generous, and much-appreciated gifts.
Virgilio’s Saint Joseph rolls are super yummy plain, with a touch of butter, or olive oil, and are even more super delicious made into one of their world-famous sandwiches!
In case you missed the Virgilio’s Phantom Gourmet episode, here it is:
As did Maria, Nina, and Domenic from Caffe Sicilia, Joe took time from his tremendously full work day to allow time for filming and sharing his stories. We’re so blessed to have these fabulous and welcoming bakeries/grocerias in our community. Next week, filming at Sclafani’s is scheduled!
Addendum ~ Al Bezanson writes in the comment section (see below):
“As a side note, did you know about the tradition of delivering donated fresh (sometimes warm) Virgilio’s bread to schooners as they arrive for the Labor Day Schooner Festival? When you get around schooner people you may hear them talking about the need to have extra butter aboard in Gloucester. This is a very big deal in fending off other ports that are vying for schooners that same weekend. Thanks Joe and the high speed Ramsey/Nesta delivery guys!”
THANK YOU AL for your always super helpful comments. This is information about Joe’s generosity that we would never have know without you sharing!