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Celebrate Crayfish Season with a 'Kräftskiva'

How to host a traditional crayfish party of eating and feasting

Crayfish parties are one of the highlights of the Swedish calendar. Every August and part of September hats are worn and songs are sung, whilst piles of crayfish are devoured. Oh and did I mention the snaps? TOAST caught up with founder and owner of TotallySwedish Annethe Nathan to learn more about this fun tradition, and hear her tips on how to throw a cracking kräftskiva at home.



Last week I learnt all about the Scandinavian practice of fika - next up in my whistle-stop tour of Nordic traditions is one which has always appealed to me greatly – the crayfish party, or as the Swedes call it  - kräftskiva. Each summer huge crayfish parties are thrown in Sweden and beyond, and it’s surprisingly easy to organise one at home.

TotallySwedish has been providing the UK with a little slice of Sweden since 2005. They have two stores in London as well as a vast online shop that offers a wide range of Swedish products, from groceries to gifts. Founder and owner Annethe Nathan knows a thing or two about Swedish tastes, and it seems their love for crayfish is well established. 

‘Swedes have actually been eating crayfish since the middle ages…’ explains Annethe, ‘…but in the mid 1800's crayfishing in Swedish lakes and rivers had become so popular that a law was introduced to restrict the crayfishing season. Traditionally the 7th of August at 5pm was the start for farmers and landowners with fishing rights to start crayfishing. As August was a busy harvest month this would come as a welcome break, and a good catch of crayfish would result in a crayfish party, with plenty or song and dance and tons of crayfish washed down with plenty of alcohol!’ 

Today imported crayfish, or ‘kräftor’, are on sale all year round but few Swedes are prepared to abandon the seasonal tradition, and so August is still considered the time to crack open the schnapps and get stuck in.

Despite it’s name – piles of crayfish are not the only customary feature of the traditional crayfish party; other almost compulsory elements include special paper hats and bibs to wear, specific lanterns to be strung around the house or garden, and special songs to be warbled by the table. The party should also always take place al fresco, if the weather permits.

So there are a few things to consider, if you want to throw a truly traditional crayfish party. Luckily Annethe is on hand to talk us through these various details, and give TOAST her tips on how to throw a cracking kräftskiva!


First up - the crayfish!

First and foremost – how do you figure out how many of the little critters you’re going to need to satisfy your guests?

‘Well it depends on how experienced the guests are at eating crayfish!’ laughs Annethe. ‘An experienced crayfish eater will happily eat 20-30 crayfish in one sitting, but about 6-8 per person is more usual. You could always invite a Swedish crayfish enthusiast to your party who can teach the other guests how to eat them…’ 

Once you’ve done your calculations (I am going for 12 per head to be safe) you’ll need to buy them. There aren’t huge amounts of crayfish left in Sweden, so frozen crayfish imported from other countries are now the most popular and most commonly used for crayfish parties.

‘We sell boxes of frozen crayfish online and in store’ says Annethe. ‘There’s about 15-20 crayfish in a box, and they are fresh water crayfish that have already been cooked according to a Swedish recipe with dill, salt and sugar which enhances their natural flavour. So all you need to do is defrost them!’

(You can purchase them from TotallySwedish).  

Just make sure that you leave enough time before your kräftskiva for the crayfish to defrost. Follow the instructions on the box, but do allow a bit of extra time if you are defrosting several boxes.

To serve

Crayfish should be served and eaten cold, and the lovely sweet flavors of the meat should not be interfered with – so no need to add spices or sauces.

‘You’ll just need lots of dill, preferably dill flowers, to scatter over the crayfish. This will add subtle flavouring and will look lovely too’ recommends Annethe. 

Crayfish should be piled high in big bowls or on serving platters and spread across the table, so that guests can get stuck in. We love these platters from Anthropolgie, which will add a touch of traditional Scandi chic to the table £78.00. Accompany with these crayfish napkins and table runners for your guest place settings to add some colour and style from The Linen Peddler.

Shutterstock 115967827

Anthropologie And The Linen Peddler

Crown Dill PHOTO Monika Agorelius

(Photo by Monika Agorelius)

To eat

Crayfish are relatively easy to eat - very similar to peeling a prawn or langoustine. They can be tackled without special utensils; claws can be broken off, sucked and discarded, followed by the head. After that the shell can be removed form the body, and the meat pulled out of the tail and enjoyed.

Annethe suggests carefully using a small knife if your guests are struggling; ‘It can be tricky to open the crayfish – you might need a strong knife with a pointy end to 'bend open' the shell’ she explains. ‘For many sucking the juice out of the claws is a delicacy, and for this you'll need to cut the tip of the claws with pliers, or a nut cracker!’

There are no poisonous parts of a crayfish, so go wild!

Carl Mertens offers a wonderful collection of seafood tools that are chic as well as functional. 
As you can imagine eating crayfish can get seriously messy business, so be sure to provide plenty of paper napkins. For the same reason paper tablecloths the norm at crayfish parties. These traditional crayfish patterns from TotallySwedish and the Scandi Kitchen are colourfull and very authentic.  And remember - slurping loudly and making appreciate groans whilst eating your crayfish is positively encouraged in Sweden!
Crayfish Accessories

Swedish sides

The focus of the party is of course on the mountains of crayfish; however there is another traditional dish that should be served called västerbottensost;

‘Swedish Västerbottensost is a pie made with a special aged Swedish cheese’ explains Annethe. ‘The cheese has a mellow and rich flavour, and the pie should be eaten with the crayfish. Here's is our Västerbottensost traditional recipe for you to try at home.

Vasterbottensost Cheese Pie PHOTO Norrmejerier

For added drama serve your cheese pie(s) on a raised cake stands, in amongst the plates of crayfish. This Luna Footed cake stand is a simple, classic design from John Lewis

Some fresh sliced bread dotted around the table is also a good idea, to help soak up the snaps. Speaking of which….

To drink

In my opinion liquid refreshment at any party (alcoholic or not) is very important, but Annethe tells me that it’s more so than ever at a crayfish party.

‘The crayfish are very salty and that will make your guests very thirsty, so traditionally lots of beer and snaps are consumed!’ explains Annethe.

 And then of course, there is the famous schnapps.

‘The most famous snaps drink is Aquavit’ Annethe tells me. ‘It’s a strong, flavoured alcohol which is served cold, in shot glasses.’

Snaps - not to confused with schnapps - is a Swedish and Danish word for a small shot of a strong alcoholic beverage taken during the course of a meal – a shot basically. Akvavit or Aquavit is a flavoured spirit that is primarily produced in Scandinavia, where it has been produced since the 15th century; it is essentially flavored vodka, and the Swedish version is distilled from grain and then infused with various spices, herbs and fruit oils which gives it its unique herby earthy, flavours. It is the most traditional of snaps and often attributed as the national drink of Sweden.

There are various brands available, but O.P Andersson and Skåne are considered two of the best. There is also a version made by Hallands flavoured with elderflower, which is particularly good with crayfish. All of these are available to purchase from TotallySwedish.  

A word of warning – Aquavit is very strong! It is tradition at a crayfish party to drink a shot ‘to each claw’ but maybe choose a shot to every second crayfish instead? 

Any premium lager will do, but there is Swedish lager available if you want to be truly authentic. Pistonhead Lager is a delicious craft beer brewed in Sweden that is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. The small cans are great for parties, and the fruity flavour with hints of orange flower, apricot, honey, herbs and grapefruit really complements the crayfish. 

Totallyswedish


To sing

It’s no secret that the Swedes love a good sing-a-long and the crayfish party is no exception. 

‘Before each shot is drunk it's traditional to sing a 'snapsvisa' or 'drinking song', says Annethe. ‘If you have a Swedish person present at your party he or she will probably know a few drinking songs to teach the other guests, but otherwise it can be fun to prepare one before the party. Take a 30 second, or so, long melody from a song everyone knows and make up your own, often a little bit 'saucy', lyrics to it. Sing with your guests and then shout 'Skål' (cheers) and this is where everyone downs their snaps!’

It might help to print out the lyrics of your chosen song and pass copies round the table, so that everyone knows the words and there is no excuse for not singing! If you could prefer to have a go at a traditional Swedish drinking song then Annethe has a recommendation to make.

'Helan går' is the most famous Swedish drinking song. Here's a link to what it sounds like and with lyrics in Swedish, so you can sing-a-long!’ 

'Helan går' 

‘For those who choose not to drink alcohol we stock Lingon 100% Snaps freshly squeezed Swedish lingonberries which is sour and makes for a good snaps alternative, and it's healthy too!’ 

Swedish styling

Finally, no crayfish party would be complete without decorations. Traditionally, crayfish garlands are strung about and lanterns featuring the ‘Man on the Moon’ are hung from the trees (or ceiling if indoors!). 

Crayfish Party Decorations PHOTO Carolina Romare Imagebank

This beautifully styled crayfish party from The Orchard Blog shows how much fun you can have styling your table. Adding some traditional red and white colouring with a gingam tablecloth and chic red invitations with a sprig of rosemary and you can create a beautiful setting to enjoy your celebrations. 

The Orchard Blog

(Image cedit: The Orchard Blog)

IKEA Crayfish Party Styling

(Crayfish Party Styling by IKEA)

Crayfish Party Styling

(Image Credits:  EllaMatovin.seSandAnna, Sweet Paul Digital)

Swedish Crayfish Party PHOTO Carolina Romare Imagebank

(Photo Credit Carolina Romare, Imagebank)

'A crayfish party also requires silly pointy hats!’ laughs Annethe. Plus, eating crayfish is messy so you'll need bibs for the guests to keep clothes and hands clean’

You’ll be pleased to know that matching hats and bibs can be purchased at TotallySwedish, so that you can at least remain coordinated throughout your crayfish feast 

All of these accessories, decorations and traditions create an atmospheric and entertaining atmosphere, to be enjoyed by all. The night should be informal, fun, noisy and delicious! 

‘You can't go wrong with a bunch of fun friends, lots of crayfish, schnapps and home made Västerbottensost Cheese Pie. It will be a party your friends will always remember!’ says Annethe.

Skål!

TotallySwedish have two stores in London (32 Crawford Street, London W1H 1LS, and 66 Barnes High Street, Barnes, London SW13 9LD) and an online shop - TotallySwedish.com 

 
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