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The first time crayfish were mentioned in Swedish gastronomy was in a letter from Erik XIV to the bailiff at Nyköpingshus dated in 1562. In the letter the king ordered the bailiff to get as much crayfish as possible for his sister Anna's wedding. King Erik later also started to farm crayfish in the water-filled moats around Kalmar Castle. At that time, crayfish were not eaten whole and cold, but were instead the main ingredient in various kinds of minced meat dishes and stews. When the people started eating the crayfish whole instead, they were cooked as we do today, but they were still served steaming hot. It was not until the end of the 19th century that crayfish were allowed to cool in the broth and then served cold decorated with twigs of crown dill.

Napoleon Bonaparte developed quite an addiction to crayfish in the late 1800’s which resulted in crayfish becoming hugely popular. 

Before this, there were plenty of crayfish in rivers and lakes all across central and northern Europe but the increasing consumption led to a depletion that forced a statutory restriction on crayfish fishing from November all the way to the premiere date which was set for the 7th of August at 5 pm. In 1982 this was changed to August 17th and the ban was in place all the way until 1994 and has since been lifted. However, it still formally applies in many places so that the crayfish have time to grow before they are picked up. Through imports, we can now also eat crayfish all year round, but the tradition of crayfish premieres is so strong that most people still have their crayfish party during the month of August. 

“Kräftskivan”, the traditional Swedish (and Finnish and sometimes also Norwegian) party is a relatively young phenomenon. We have eaten crayfish here in Scandinavia since the Middle Ages and crayfish were served as a feast for royalty ever since the 16th century. However, the phenomenon of turning the crayfish season into an event of partying, where crayfish are eaten whole and cold, arose as late as the end of the 19th century. It came about as something called “Kräftsupen”, a festive way to say goodbye to summer and to welcome the approaching season of autumn. However, this was mainly an event for bourgeois people and it wasn’t until the 1930’s when crayfish started to be imported from abroad, which led to cheaper prices, that the festivities spread from the upper class to the broad public and “Kräftskivan” was born. We are happy it was because it is now as rooted in Swedish culture as Christmas and Midsummer.  It is definitely one of our favourite happenings of the year!

In the next blog post we will write about the How-to guide to Kräftskivan.