Celebrating the Kräftskiva: a Swedish Crayfish Party Tradition

Swedish Crayfish Party

A few weeks ago, before the season began its visible transition from summer to fall, I took part in one of the most charming of Scandinavian celebrations, the kräftskiva, or Swedish crayfish party. A tradition every August in Sweden, it’s one that I’ve tried to embrace here in Seattle over the past several years. This year, in addition to hosting my own, I had the opportunity to be a guest at a very special kräftskiva hosted by Old Ballard Liquor Company.

As the summer sun glowed golden over Ballard, a neighborhood rich with Scandinavian history, I crossed the old railroad tracks, past the main streets, and made my way into a shipyard where relics of the old neighborhood were displayed as if it were a museum. Lights and signs from shuttered Ballard bars and restaurants (including one of my favorites, the old Copper Gate) brought back memories of old times. An old newspaper vending box displaying a 2009 issue made me do a double take (the headline announced the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition, an event that as a journalist I remember vividly). The sun cast a radiant tint over everything, and if one had entered the scene after putting back a few shots of aquavit, one might wonder if they were really seeing things for what they were.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish Crayfish Party

With live music, lanterns, and plenty of aquavit flowing at Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, we made fast friends with our fellow diners and dug into the meal. With crustacean juice and the wild-fennel-and-beer poaching liquid dripping from our lips, we shared tips for how to break into the crayfish and extract as much of the meat and goodness as possible.

My neighbor, nostalgic for a time when she had lived in Sweden, focused on the crayfish, savoring the eat-with-your-hands meal and her own personal aquavit carafe frozen in a thick sleeve of ice. Less sure of the crayfish, the woman across from me made a meal primarily out of the mini onion and mushroom cheese pies (it’s typical to serve Västerbotten cheese pie at such dinners, as crayfish themselves are hardly enough to fill one up and soak up all the aquavit consumed). Rounded out with new potatoes tossed with butter and dill, rye crispbread to slather with butter, and an elderberry ice cream topped with stone fruit compote, the meal was distinctly Nordic—with a Pacific Northwest touch.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

As the sun set, I couldn’t help but think about the Friday-night revelers that would be gathering along the strips of bars and restaurants in the heart of Ballard. They would be oblivious to this quirky, cultural tradition taking place on just the other side of the old railroad tracks. With a full stomach and happy with the warm glow of celebration and community, I knew just where I would rather be.

Swedish Crayfish Party

Kräftskiva, Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish Crayfish Party with Dill

It’s been a quiet week here in my little corner of the world, and to my dismay a quiet one on the blog as well. I have spent the entire week sick, and while it hasn’t kept me from working toward essential deadlines, I’ve had to take it easy and also decline invitations for some quintessentially summer events in Seattle (boating? On a sunny summer evening? I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to miss that).

As August nears a close and I reflect back on the summer, however, I have to say that it’s been a good one. My husband’s MBA graduation, a Midsummer picnic out of town, picking berries and freezing them for special treats as the weather cools down, the majority of dinners eaten outside on the patio, and plenty of writing, recipe development, and recipe testing to keep me inspired–I can’t complain. To top it off, last Friday I hosted a kräftskiva-inspired crayfish dinner for the family, complete with the requisite aquavit and Scandinavian beer.

While my own roots are entirely Norwegian, there are some Swedish connections on my husband’s side, so I enjoyed researching the traditional Swedish crayfish party and holding one of my own.

Swedish Crayfish Party Sides

Lemon and Crayfish

Kräftskiva–as the parties are called–typically take place in August as a throwback to the times when crayfish were limited to this time of year. Sweden used to be the world’s biggest crayfish exporter, I read in Scandinavian Classics by Niklas Ekstedt, but now–nearly a century after the crayfish plague there–the country is now the world’s biggest importer. An interesting turn of events, to be sure. Much of the crayfish now comes from China, but that doesn’t stop people in Sweden from going all out and enjoying a Scandinavian feast as festive and abundant as any other.

The menu typically features crayfish cooked in a brine flavored with crown dill, served with a variety of cheeses, bread, flatbread, pickled herring, potatoes, beer, and schnapps (aquavit). We took some liberties with the traditional menu, extending the country of origin for some of our items to neighboring Norway and Denmark (even in Seattle, a distinctly Scandinavian city, we do have limitations in what’s readily available). We also served the crayfish alongside Alaskan salmon, freshly caught by my father-in-law who had just returned from vacation (it’s hard to make a meal out of crayfish alone, after all). I should add that if you don’t know where to find fresh crayfish, I found mine frozen at Ikea last week.

Before August comes to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you my menu from last week, along with links to the recipes that I used. Next year I’ll do it up a little more, adding the crayfish streamers lanterns, and other trappings that traditionally accompany these events. But I have to say, the menu was a success, and people were talking about the event for days.

Outside Oslo’s 2013 Kräftskiva Menu
Crayfish with Lemony Mayonnaise and Lemon Wedges
Fresh Alaskan King Salmon
Green Bean Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing
Assortment of Scandinavian Cheese
Various crispbread and bread
Pickled Herring
Linie Aquavit
Karlsson’s Gold Vodka

Swedish Crayfish Party Feast with Salmon

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