The crayfish party
The dark August nights provide the perfect setting for a Swedish crayfish feast.
Once a preserve of the rich, the Swedish crayfish party is today an occasion for all. Over the years, certain aspects of it have become a tradition.
There are some ground rules:
- Crayfish are to be eaten outdoors.
- Gaily coloured paper lanterns should preferably be hung round the table. The most popular type of lantern shows a smiling full moon.
- Both the tablecloth and the colourful plates can also be of paper.
- People wear bibs round their necks and funny little paper hats on their heads.
- Songs are eagerly encouraged – the sillier the better.
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 some even a schnapps.
Why crayfish have become a delicacy
Back in the early 1900s, Sweden introduced restrictions on river crayfishing. This was due to the risk of over-fishing, and the season was then 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 crayfish brands for sale in supermarkets.
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 catch their own crayfish, of course. As the little creatures like the dark, they can be found crawling along the bottom. 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 water for food hygiene reasons.
The Swedish crayfish party – the origins
Crayfish have been eaten in Sweden since the 1500s. For a long while, only the aristocracy enjoyed these delicacies, as popular suspicion of shellfish was widespread. Originally, crayfish meat was used for sausage, ragout, patties or puddings.
It was in the mid-1800s that people started eating crayfish as they are eaten today. The crayfish feast or crayfish supper in the month of August spread through the middle classes. In the 1900s, crayfish became a national delicacy and people in all sectors of society began celebrating the occasion. The price of crayfish fell as a result of imports from Türkiye and elsewhere. The crayfish feast, at which people gather to eat, drink and be merry, is a typically Swedish festivity marking the end of the summer.
Conversions and abbreviations
1 g = 1 gramme = 1/1,000 of a kg
1 kg = 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds (lb)
1 dl = 1 decilitre = 100 millilitres (ml) = 1/10 of a litre = 0.4 US cup
1 litre = 10 dl = 0.9 UK quart (qt) = 1.06 US liquid qt
1 fl oz, UK = 1 fluid ounce = 1/33 UK qt = 30 ml
1 fl oz, US = 1/32 US qt = 28 ml
1 lb = 16 oz = 450 ml
1 tsp = 1 teaspoon = 1/6 oz = 5 ml
1 tbsp = 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons = 1/2 oz = 15 ml
°C = degrees Celsius; °F = degrees Fahrenheit
For more online conversions: onlineconversion.com.
Västerbotten cheese quiche – a festive side dish
One of the most popular dishes served at a crayfish party, apart from the crayfish itself, is the Västerbotten cheese quiche.
Try the tasty recipe below and get ready for the feast.
Västerbotten cheese quiche recipe
Ingredients (8 servings)
3 dl wheat flour
125 g butter
0.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp cold water
2 dl cream
2 pinches coarsely ground black pepper
300 g grated Västerbotten cheese (you can replace the cheese with a cheese of your liking).
Roe sauce (optional):
1 red onion
100 g fish roe
2 dl crème fraîche or sour cream
Set the oven to 200°C.
Mix the flour, butter and salt into a crumbly mass. Add water and quickly work together into a dough.
Press the dough into a quiche dish. Prick with a fork and refrigerate for about 10 mins.
Pre-bake for about 10 minutes.
Whisk together eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Add the cheese and pour the mixture into the quiche crust.
Bake in the middle of the oven until the egg yolk has set and has a nice colour, about 20 minutes.
Leave it to cool before serving.