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11.19.2013

The Baker's Dozen (1988)

Retold by Heather Forest

Illustrated by Susan Gaber

August House

This is an older book which was just recently re-issued by August House. It has a real nice feel and look to it. I remember the illustraot, Susan Gaber, from her work on Raisel's Riddle, but in this one the colors seem warmer, the scenes in the bakery itself are filled with cookies and cakes and pies. The subtitle is "A Colonial American Tale," and its Christmas theme is just subtle, a tiny Santa Claus hanging in the window of the bakery, and a few flakes of snow.

Van Amsterdam is the most popular baker in Albanytown. He is rotund and jouyous and wears a toque the balloons from his head like a mushroom with elephantitus. His most famous creation of all is the St. Nicholas cookie which brings him much prosperity. But this is a cautionary tale! Late one night, in a very Ebeneezer-ish frame of mind, Van Amsterdam stays nawake counting his gold coins.

"If I use just a little less butter, no one will know. If I use just one less egg, they will scarcely be able to tell. If I use just a little less honey, then there will be more money for me!"

That dark turn of mind then manifests itself in the guise of a mysterious, cloaked woman, who appears in his store and demands a dozen of his cookies... or else!

"A dozen means twelve!"

"A dozen means thirteen, and you're a greedy man!"

"How dare you call me greedy! Get out of my store!"

I suppose I'd never thought about the origins of the phrase "a baker's dozen," before, and I was surprised when that's exactly when this story turned out to be. Apparently, Van Amsterdam is an historical figure, a colonial baker living in Albany, New York, who "inspired an American custom that, in some places, persists even today."

I'm not sure how much of this story is from the author's imagination, and how much of it is the actual tale as it has been passed down. Looking up the phrase myself, I found a few different versions, some setting it back in medieval England. Regardless, this one certainly felt authentic.

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