Swedish people get together to enjoy kräftskivor – crayfish parties – at the end of each summer, where hosts offer a spread of simple, traditional dishes like aged cheese or leek quiche, crispbread, potato salad and dill crème fraiche sauce alongside the requisite crayfish boil. Guests don paper hats and bibs for the meal, while hanging paper lanterns set the scene for an outdoor dinner party punctuated by schnapps – or snaps as it is called in Sweden – and celebratory songs.
From August to early September, when summer is drawing to a close.
During the late 19th century, the Swedish government introduced a ban on harvesting crayfish to manage high demand for the meat from their European neighbours. Each year in early August, the ban was lifted for a month for fisherman to gather the shellfish from Sweden’s lakes, and for locals to catch their own. Kräftskivor thus began to herald the opening of the legal fishing season.
Marking the seasons
Kräftskivor fall at the end of summer, when Swedes have typically spent the warmer months at holiday homes. “You’re about to start work or school again, but you have this one last event to enjoy,” says Sophie Zetterberg, a Swede living in Australia and co-owner of Sydney’s Fika Swedish Kitchen. “There could be a few of them every weekend, you have to squeeze them in. It’s really intense in August as everyone has them, but it’s a really fun month!”
A song for all occasions
Booklets featuring a selection of songs are often prepared by the host, prompting guests to erupt in unison throughout the meal. “Swedes love singing together. You wouldn’t have a dinner party without singing,” says Zetterberg. Helan Går is a popular tune to accompany a sip – or glass – of snaps, a vodka-based drink which might be infused with elderflower, orange and fennel, or lemon and black pepper. “Helan Går roughly translates to ‘the whole shot goes down’,” Zetterberg explains of the spontaneous song-and-drink ritual.
The art of eating crayfish
“The beginner’s approach is to eat the tail alone,” says Zetterberg, explaining the head of the crayfish can be easily twisted away from the body and the sweet meat within pulled out in one go. “It’s all about pinching hard!” Advanced diners take on special utensils, using a nutcracker to crack the claws and a crayfish knife to pull the meat from them.
Celebrations in Australia
As in Sweden, a kräftskiva is held in the home for family and friends. Local community groups like Swedish churches also host events, as do some IKEA branches. Zetterberg’s restaurant on Sydney’s northern beaches, Fika Swedish Kitchen, has held their own full-day kräftskiva for Swedes and locals alike to enjoy the traditional party.
Cook the recipes
Photography by Alecia Wood.