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Interpreting the Evidence

Painting of The Baker by Job Berckheyde, c. 1681

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Colonial America (1630s - 1760)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Colonial America

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Painting of The Baker by Job Berckheyde, c. 1681 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The Baker, by Job Berckheyde, c.1681
Historical Context
Bread was the main staple of the Dutch diet both in the Netherlands and in the colony of New Netherland. Residents of the colony ate at least three times a day and bread was a key part of every meal. Bread in New Netherland was made mostly from wheat which could be grown in abundance in this part of the world. Bakers baked both rye and wheat bread. White bread was the most desirable bread and therefore was consumed mainly by the wealthier residents of the colony.
Baking was a labor intensive process that required significant amounts of time. The ovens were built with large bricks designed to stay hot for long periods of time. First, the baker would heat the oven with wood and clean out the residue when the oven was hot enough. Then the oven would be wiped clean with a wet cloth attached to the end of a stick. The baker had to knead the dough by hand or foot. Rye bread had to bake for 12 hours, while wheat bread had to rise twice and bake for an hour. The baker would blow a horn when the bread was ready so  customers would know they could now purchase the bread and other baked goods.
            The large amount of wheat and rye bread produced by Dutch colonial bakers reflects the influence of geography on colonial life. The abundance of natural resources necessary for the production of large quantities of wheat allowed for the increased production of the more desirable white bread. The availability of resources also allowed for the production of holiday treats like sweet breads, cakes, and cookies.
Essential Question
How did the bakers contribute to the growth and success of the colony?
Check for Understanding
Have students work together to analyze the painting using the historical evidence as text evidence to help answer the question: why do you think the baker is blowing a horn?