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The crayfish party

by Po Tidholm

As the Swedish summer draws to a close, you may be lucky enough to experience warm, clear August nights that are almost Mediterranean in character. That’s when Swedes have their crayfish parties.

Enjoying the summer evenings, Swedes remain outdoors for as long as possible. Photo: Bruno Ehrs/Bildhuset
Enjoying the summer evenings, Swedes remain outdoors for as long as possible. Photo: Bruno Ehrs/Bildhuset

Sought-after delicacy
Due to the risk of over-fishing, restrictions on river crayfishing were introduced back in the early 20th century. The season was limited to a couple of months from August. Crayfish thus became an exclusive and much sought-after delicacy. The crayfish population 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 — are always adjudged the best. 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 crayfish is accompanied by cheese, bread, beer and of course: Schnapps. Photo: Erika Lidén/Image Bank Sweden
The crayfish is accompanied by cheese, bread, beer and of course: Schnapps. Photo: Erika Lidén/Image Bank Sweden

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.

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.

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Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic with the Stockholm daily, Dagens Nyheter. Po Tidholm wrote the main sections about how we celebrate in Sweden today.

Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. Agneta Lilja wrote the sections about the history of Swedish traditions and festivities.

The authors alone are responsible for the opinions expressed on this web page.

Translation: Stephen Croall/Lingon

© Photos
Photo 1: Bruno Ehrs/Bildhuset
Photo 2: Björn Keller/Bildhuset

Copyright: 2004 Agneta Lilja, Po Tidholm and the Swedish Institute. This text is published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se.


 

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