Stocking the Fenton’s Shelves (King Gustav’s Crispbread) By Karen Livsey, Fenton History Center Archivist
A few years ago, this column featured one of the grocery stores in Jamestown. It was in business under the name of Treat and Ogilvie from 1909 until just after World War II. It was mostly a wholesale fruit and produce business, but the storefront served the public as a grocery store as well. Daniel Ogilvie and Charles Treat, with experience in the grocery and produce business, became partners and began business at 208 Pine Street.
A recent donation to the Fenton History Center adds one more tidbit of history to that store and to the history of Jamestown. Besides the fresh produce, they stocked the store with grocery items. Most all these items were shipped to the store from elsewhere. We acquired a wooden shipping box with the label for the contents of the box and with the address of the business in Jamestown to which it was shipped. Ogilvie and Treat was the receiving business in Jamestown. The contents were 30 one pound packages of “Spisbröd”. For all of the readers who do not read Swedish, this is crispbread or hardtack. It was made by Wilma Florell in Gotenburg, Sweden. It was the King Gustaf brand. During the time that Oglivie and Treat was in business (1909 to the 1940s), the King of Sweden was Gustaf V, so it makes sense that his name was used as the brand name. The population of Jamestown at that time period had many people of Swedish heritage who looked for familiar foods from the “old country.”
Looking on the Internet for Wilma Florell, there is a page that describes the packaging for the crispbread under the brand of King Oscar. Oscar was the father of King Gustaf V. This information seemed to have come from a museum in Sweden so they may have the packaging for the one pound package as it describes a package with flowers on it. Our shipping box does not have flowers.
Crispbread has been made in the Scandinavian countries for centuries and has been considered a “poor man’s bread.” It is made from rye flour, water, and salt. Traditionally it was formed into a flat, round “loaf” with a hole in the middle. The hole was made so that the many loaves of crispbread could
be “strung” on a pole and hung near the ceiling. Traditionally the crispbread was made twice a year. The two times that it was made was the fall after the harvest of the rye, and in the spring just as the rivers
began to flow again. If one is familiar with crispbread, you know that the surface is full of “dimples”. Crispbread is unleavened. Instead of a leavening agent, such as yeast, crispbread remains flat and these
indentations are made by water evaporating during baking. The water that evaporated during the baking was introduced to the dough in the form of either snow or powdered ice. This also explains the two times the crispbread was baked. In the fall, after the harvest, snow would began falling, and in the spring, the river ice would soften and soon disappear.
Today’s crispbread dough, which contains a large amount of water, is mixed until bubbly and then quickly baked. Crispbread has made a comeback as health-conscious people discover that crispbread is a good platform for many kinds of food. It can support herring, cold cuts, vegetables- just about anything, even butter and jam.