A good habit since 1923 – Who would have thought that women’s suffrage, a loan of SEK 1,000 and a woman with an incredible achievement would result in Sweden’s now oldest flatbread bakery?
Flatbread has very old traditions in the High Coast. As the name suggests, the bread is thin, which has its historical and climatic reasons. Wheat is the best grain to bake bread from, but due to the cold climate and the short summers, barley became the only grain that could be grown in the northern part of the country. As barley flour, in contrast to wheat, has no natural gluten content, which is needed to make the dough ferment and thus be able to be baked thoroughly, the dough was flattened out instead. In this way, the thin barley dough was baked thoroughly, and the flatbread was “thank God” invented. It all started in a small bakery in Mjällom, a small community in the innermost Nordingrå in the heart of the High Coast. Here, flatbread and shoe manufacturing have been responsible for employment for several decades, and it was here in the source of Swedish flatbread culture that Sweden’s oldest flatbread bakery, Mjälloms Tunnbröd, saw its light.
In the past, each farmer had his own baking shed on the farm where they made the autumn and spring baked goods for the needs of the house. At the advent of industrialism, workers as well as white-collar workers had no time for baking flatbread and no bakeries of their own, after which they came to hire special bakers that did the work for them. At the turn of the century, such a baker was Kristina Viberg. Her daughter, Rut, proved to be a good flatbread baker at an early age, and she often helped her mother.
Rut Viberg starts Mjälloms Flatbread Bakery
With newly gained self-confidence in connection with women’s suffrage two years earlier, the single, 21-year-old, Rut makes a big decision. With saved money and a loan of a thousand kronor from shoe manufacturer Nordlander’s father, she makes the brave decision to build a baking cabin and start a flatbread bakery. Mjälloms Flatbread Bakery had seen the light of day. The bread is initially packed in large sugar trays and driven out by horse and cart down to Klockestrand as the first stop.
Achievement and expansion
Thanks to baking skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, which Rut herself called “achievement”, flatbread baking takes off. In 1930, Rut has three wood-fired ovens that employ around 10 girls, as production is up to 400 – 500 kg of flatbread per day. They have switched from the large sugar boxes to smaller wooden boxes that are nailed by hand in the evenings. Rut marries Evert Ullsten this year, a man she met between bread bakings, when he was a driver and drove flour to the bakery. Their focus on sales, production and distribution enables several expansions.
The first machine is installed
The first step in the mechanization of flatbread baking is taken and they purchase a serving machine that makes the round dough pieces which are then to be rolled out into large flatbread cakes. This facilitates and speeds up production so that they have time to bake more when demand is high.
At this time, we have gone nationwide and have six wood-fired ovens, we bake 800 – 1000 kg of flatbread per day. The craft is carefully preserved even though we have quite a large production. However, it is decided to facilitate the process by installing machines.
Reduction of heavy work steps
In order to avoid heavy work steps and be able to increase production further, a rolling machine is being developed in collaboration with Erik Ahlenius in Häggvik and an electric oven is purchased from Allan Holmqvist AB in Stockholm. Shortly afterwards, they change their name to Mjälloms Electrical Flatbread Factory. Rut Ullsten spontaneously exclaimed “Heaven on Earth” when she saw the machines. Although the technology and much more has been refined over the years, this construction was so good that it still forms the basis for the flatbread baking at Mjälloms Flatbread.
The second generation takes over
The second generation takes over and the bakery moves to Ullånger. The second generation, Ivan Ullsten and his wife Laila, take over the family business. A few years later, the flatbread baking is moved from Mjällom to Ullånger. After several years of strong expansion, the bakery, started in 1923, in Mjällom becomes too small and land is lacking to expand once again. It is then decided to build a new modern bakery in Ullånger, a few of kilometers from Mjällom. Of course, the name Mjälloms is retained, which has made both the place and the bread known throughout Sweden. In the spring and winter of 1977, the new bakery is ready.
Old-fashioned is launched
Our signature Old-fashioned Flatbread is launched this year. Test baking after test baking is done to reach the goal of what exactly an Old-fashioned Flatbread should be. The result turns out to be perfect as this will later become our bestseller. The dough is a little stronger and differs from the other varieties in the baking process. The bread is based on Grandma Rut’s old recipe and, as always, we roll them thin to get a crispy and golden-baked flatbread, just as it should be.
Preservation of an important gastronomic tradition
Mjällom’s Flatbread is awarded a prize and diploma by the Academy of Gastronomy in Stockholm on November 8 for its thin blood bread and the preservation of an important gastronomic tradition.
The third generation takes over
The third generation, Torbjörn Ullsten, takes over the operation of the family business and just like his grandmother, he is now 21 years old. Together with his wife Ethel Ullsten, he drives the development of the bakery into a new era. The company’s products are based on Grandma Ruth’s recipe and we now have 13 different varieties.
The packaging is rebuilt
The largest investment in production to date is made to streamline work and meet the demands of the times in, among other things, quality and working environment. The 49-year-old production line is rebuilt, and the manual packaging line is replaced by modern technology.
The evolution into a modern bakery
Only a few years later, the industrial robot makes its entrance into the bakery and we thus remove the heavy lifting of full flatbread boxes. Development of the food craft begins and för exampel flatbread biscuits, chocolate-dipped flatbread and flatbread chips are launched on the market. In 2007, Torbjörn Ullsten will receive the Angermannalaget’s Culture Prize for his knowledge of flatbread and strong faith, will and strength to preserve an important culture for Ångermanland. In this case, the flatbread culture.
The fourth generation of flatbread bakers takes over
Since 1923, we have taken the step from wood-fired ovens to a modern bakery. The manufacturing process has been preserved and we bake in the same rolling machine that we designed in 1946, while packaging of the flatbread has been automated. Today, the company is run by Torbjörn Ullsten and his family, the fourth generation of flatbread bakers, in a modern bakery in Ullånger, a fewkilometers from Mjällom. We have taken the utmost care to preserve the unique character of flatbread. Our flatbread baking therefore follows the same steps as when the first dough was set. However, we continue to keep our minds open to new tempting flavors, trends and delicious recipes. Today, the classic flatbread is associated with gourmet products such as the original flatbread in 1923 and flatbread chips. Bread deliveries no longer go only to the countryside but to the whole of Sweden and to the continent.