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The crayfish party

The ideal August night is warm and tender, just perfect for a traditional crayfish party. All you need is some friends, a heap of freshly boiled crayfish, some beer and schnapps and a selection of silly drinking songs.

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Photo: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Sought-after delicacy

Due to the risk of over-fishing, restrictions on river crayfishing were introduced back in the early 1900s. The season was limited to a couple of months from August. Crayfish thus became an exclusive and much sought-after delicacy. The crayfish population in rivers and lakes has also been decimated on a number of occasions by a dreaded parasitic mould.

Today, imported crayfish are on sale all year round, but few Swedes are prepared to abandon the seasonal tradition. In early August, the media set the scene for the feast with detailed tests of the current year’s offerings, tips from celebrities and lists ranking the various brands.

In some years, Chinese crayfish are deemed best, in others those imported from the US. But Swedish crayfish − needless to say − always win. The trouble is, they are very expensive. Whatever their origin, crayfish in Sweden are cooked as the Swedes like them – in a brine, with plenty of crown dill.’

The very few who have private access, of course, catch their own crayfish. The little creatures are night animals, so fishing has to be done after dark. They are caught in wire traps and the bait is often rotten or raw fish. Crayfish must be alive when placed in the saucepan of boiling liquor.

Crayfish are caught at night using a trap that is lowered into the water.

Photo: Björn Tesch/imagebank.sweden.se

A traditional crayfish party

Once a preserve of the moneyed classes, the crayfish party is today an occasion for all. Over the years, certain aspects of it have become a tradition.

Crayfish are to be eaten outdoors, and gaily coloured paper lanterns should be hung round the table. The most popular type of lantern shows a smiling full moon. Both the tablecloth and the colourful plates are also supposed to be of paper. People wear bibs round their necks and comic paper hats on their heads.

Then the feast begins. You eat crayfish cold, with your fingers. Sucking noisily to extract the juices is perfectly acceptable behaviour. Bread and a strong cheese such as mature Västerbotten are eaten on the side. People mostly drink beer and the inevitable schnapps.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Po Tidholm & Agneta Lilja

Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic based in the province of Hälsingland. He regularly contributes to Swedish dailies Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet, the magazine Filter and Swedish Radio. His texts about society, culture and history often revolve around the Swedish countryside and the north of Sweden. Tidholm has written the main sections about how we celebrate in Sweden today. | Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. Her doctoral thesis, The Notion of the Ideal Record, was a critical examination of collection strategies at an archive specialising in the documentation of customs and traditions. Her research has also included the study of songs and festive customs, and she has written a book about All Saints’ Day and Halloween. At present, she is engaged in gender research. She also writes reviews and appears on radio and tv. Agneta Lilja wrote the sections about the history of Swedish traditions and festivities.