A heap of crayfish in a bowl on a nicely decorated table.
Let the party begin! Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

The crayfish party

Along with the crayfish, you’ll need beer, schnapps, friends – and silly songs.

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 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. 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.

A party on a jetty in a lake, at sunset.

A traditional crayfish party. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Two young women fishing crayfish from a small boat in a lake. They are holding a trap with some crayfish.

First you have to catch them! Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

Crayfish festivities on a jetty in a lake.

It's best to be outside when eating crayfish. It's messy – and rather smelly. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

A party on a jetty in a lake, at sunset.

A traditional crayfish party. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Two young women fishing crayfish from a small boat in a lake. They are holding a trap with some crayfish.

First you have to catch them! Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

Crayfish festivities on a jetty in a lake.

It's best to be outside when eating crayfish. It's messy – and rather smelly. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

A party on a jetty in a lake, at sunset.

A traditional crayfish party. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Two young women fishing crayfish from a small boat in a lake. They are holding a trap with some crayfish.

First you have to catch them! Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

Crayfish festivities on a jetty in a lake.

It's best to be outside when eating crayfish. It's messy – and rather smelly. Photo: Patrik Svedberg/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.

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.

In the mid-1800s, 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 Turkey 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.