Kräftskiva or crayfish party is a unique summer tradition that the Swedes partake in. Every year in the month of August, people of all ages get together all across Sweden to enjoy an evening of crayfish, pies and schnapps while wearing silly hats and singing funny songs!
K and I were lucky to have been invited to one such party this Saturday. I was extremely excited about being able to experience something so traditional first hand. After midsommar (mid-summers), kräftskiva is the next biggest and most traditional thing that Swedish people love to celebrate.
A little bit of history
If history is to be believed, crayfish started to become popular among the royals and nobles sometime in the 16th century. For a long time, it remained a delicacy among the rich and the moneyed only. Slowly it gained popularity among the masses and in the 1930s the term kräftskiva was derived from the bourgeois crayfish ritual ‘kräftsupa’, involving crayfish and alcoholic drinks.
In the early 1900s, restrictions on river crayfishing were introduced in order to prevent over-fishing. Legally, there was a ban on fishing between November & the first Wednesday in August and hence, crayfishing and crayfish parties only took place after the first Wednesday in August.
Today, although there is no legal ban anymore and crayfishing is allowed all year round, the Swedes still like to preserve the age old tradition and host these parties only in August. There is no particular date to have a kräftskiva and it’s held throughout August to make the most of the last summer days.
Choosing your crayfish
In Sweden, in order to meet the growing demand, you can find crayfish that has been imported from all over the world including China, the US, and others.
Every year, just before the onset of the season, there are a lot of reviews from experts and the media on which crayfish are the best, i.e., whether the ones from China are better this year or Turkey. But it’s usually the Swedish ones that are the most sought after. But then, they are also the most expensive!
Fresh crayfish can be bought from all the leading supermarkets, fishmongers and farmers’ markets. Fresh in this instance means boiled and ready to eat. Uncooked crayfish is usually only available when catching them yourself. There are also frozen varieties that are sold in the shops.
For a kräftskiva, there is only ONE way to serve crayfish – cooked in a brine, with plenty of crown dill.
A traditional kräftskiva is not just about the crayfish. It’s about the coming together of people around brightly decorated tables surrounded with pretty lanterns with lots of food & drinks.
Traditionally, a crayfish party is usually held outdoors, preferably by the lake if it’s in someone’e summer house, or a garden, if in the city.
The table decor is as important as the food. Usually covered with a quirky cloth and decorated with wild flowers, crayfish inspired plates and napkins to match, and pretty lanterns and bunting in the trees for ambiance. The host may also provide funny hats and bibs for their guests!
The food, in addition to tons of crayfish, includes a traditional pie made of the famous Västerbotten cheese, creamed chanterelle (a type of mushroom) on toast or a pie, fresh bread, crackers and cheese.
The eating is interspersed with a lot of schnapps, beer and wine throughout the evening and the singing of silly songs.
We were invited to a party in the city so our beautiful table was set in a lovely garden in Södermalm. The evening started with a very refined popping of the bubbly and raising a toast for our hosts. Some pie and starters were passed around whilst making polite conversation with one another.
However, soon such sophistication and airs were abandoned for the most important part of the evening – eating of the crayfish! Being first timers, the others at the table were only too happy to demonstrate the right way of eating a crayfish. Basically, we had to turn it belly up and suck out the brine, whilst slurping continuously! Slurping is not only seen as acceptable behaviour but is completely encouraged.
Next, we had to wring off the tail and extract the most delicious part of the crayfish meat. The claws also have really nice meat inside and they can be cracked with a crayfish knife or with your teeth. Our crayfish was so soft that we didn’t really need a knife. Once cracked, we teased out the the meat with a fork but bare hands can also be used.
The most fun part of the meal was watching people diligently crack one crayfish after another, in order to make the perfect sandwich – which is basically a toast laden with tons of mayonnaise and crayfish meat from at least a dozen of the crustaceans.
But no matter how engrossed everyone was in eating, we didn’t forget to down our snaps at regular intervals. Everyone at the table is required to down their drink at the same time whilst yelling ‘skål’!
The bowls of crayfish emptied out at an alarming speed but the evening was far from over. A course of delicious cheese and and home made tarts completed the most perfect experience of a kräftskiva for K and I, and I’m already looking forward to next year!