The Smell of Baking Bread

The Smell of Baking Bread

25 August 2015,   By ,   0 Comments

A version of this folk tale exists in just about every European, Middle Eastern and Asian folk tradition.

Once upon a time, in a time long ago in a land far away, a poor man walked down the streets of a village, weak with hunger. As he passed the village’s bakery, he paused to smell the aroma of baking bread. Hmmmm, it was delicious. He took another deep breath. “Ahhhh. Wonderful.” Then he sat down and just smelled and smelled and smelled. It was almost as good as eating the bread!

Before the poor man could move, the baker ran out of his store yelling “Stop Thief!” Taking hold of the poor man’s collar the baker shook him roughly and said “Pay, you thief.”

“For what?” asked the poor man.

“For the smell of my bread,” answered the baker.

“What?” said the poor man. “I am not a thief. Who ever heard of paying for the smell of baking bread? Now if I had taken your bread and eaten it, I would of course have paid you for it. But I do not have enough money to buy your bread, so I merely enjoyed the smell of the bread.”

“Aha!” said the baker. “You admit you went out of your way to smell the aroma of my baking bread. Now let me tell you, I work hard to make the smell of the bread. I get out of bed at four in the morning. I gather the wood for the fire. I pay for the finest flour and the best ingredients. I mix everything just so. Only after all this labor do I put the dough in the oven, where it makes the smell that you stole from me. And you are paying me for none of this labor! Thief, I say. I will not let you go until you pay.”

“But you do not do this labor to make bread smell! You do this labor to make bread, which you sell for a good price. In this way you are paid for your labor. The smell comes whether you want it or not. You cannot bake the bread without making the smell, which drifts on the wind free as the air.”

Still the baker would not let him go. “Maybe so, maybe so,” said the baker. “But you did more than just walk by. You stopped to smell the bread. You got the benefits from my labor. Why should you not pay for it?”

A crowd had gathered as the men argued. And while some said the poor man spoke truth, others said the baker also spoke truth. After all, why should the poor man enjoy smell of the baker’s labor for free? So they decided to take the matter to the wise man of the village for him to judge.

The baker and the poor man went to the wise man and each told their tale. When the wise man had heard their tales, he deliberated for quite a while. Hmm, hmmm and hmmm. At length, he asked the poor man, “Do you have any coins?”
The poor man took a few coins from his pocket. “A few,” he said, “but not enough to pay for a loaf of bread”

“Take your coins,” said the wise man “and make a fist. Shake your coins by the ear of the baker.” When the poor man had done so, the wise man looked at the baker and said: “Now you have received your payment.”

The baker looked at the wise man, astonished. “But I have received nothing.”

“Nonsense,” replied the wise man. “My judgments are fair though sometimes funny; you have been paid for the smell of your baking bread by the sound of his jingling money.”


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