Classic Tales and Folklore

A Baker’s Dozen – An American Folktale

Do you know where the phrase ‘Baker’s Dozen’ came from? Long ago, there lived a successful baker in Albany, New York, who owned a thriving business and a big family. One day, an ugly old woman visited the baker just as he was about to close his shop. The old woman wished to buy a dozen of the special Saint Nicholas cookies that were laid out on a tray. The good baker carefully counted out twelve cookies and handed them over to the lady.

The lady had a frown on her face. She counted the cookies again and questioned the baker as to why he had given her only twelve cookies when she had asked for a dozen. The baker looked surprised for a moment. Then he realized that a few of the other bakers in town would give an extra cookie or two to their customer. So the old woman was confused about how many were a dozen. But he was not one of them.

It took quite some time for the baker to make the old woman understand that a dozen meant only twelve and he had given her the right amount of cookies. When the old woman adamantly demanded an extra cookie, the baker told her that he had a big family to take care of and had no intentions of giving away anything free of cost. He curtly asked her to leave if she did not wish to take what was given to her.

The lady left the shop silently leaving behind all the cookies.

From then on, it appeared as though bad luck had entered the baker’s life. His cakes were stolen and the thieves were never caught. Week after week, his bread would either become too heavy and fall through the oven into the fire or rise high above and float out of the chimney. For the first time in his life, the baker was scared. He remembered the old woman and realized that he had been cursed.

The old woman once again came to the baker’s shop the next week asking for the baker’s dozen of the freshly made cookies. Misfortune had made him so angry that he cursed her and slammed the door against her face.

The week that followed was even more unfortunate than the preceding one. The bread always turned out either burnt or soggy, cakes and cookies lost their flavor. Word got around that the baker was getting old and the bakery was losing its quality. Soon the customers fell away and started visiting other bakers.

The baker was crestfallen. Finding no other way, he decided to seek the help and blessings of Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of merchants to save his failing business.

About the author

Madhu Bairy

Born on 19th June, 1985, I am a resident of Bangalore and a native of Kundapur. A self-confessed book worm, I always found any activity that involved reading and writing interesting apart from my academics. Reading is something that came quite naturally since my schooling days and that continued to grow over the years.
Writing to me is not a hobby, but something that I pursue passionately. A graduate in Textile Technology and a designer by profession, I find writing as an effective medium to convey my thoughts and opinions on anything and everything.

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