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Swedes love to party, that's what! In Sweden, August is crayfish month, with colored lanterns, the savory aroma of dill and crayfish and the merry sounds of “skål” and “snapsvisor” (aquavit songs). The tradition has spread to US, where Vasa Lodges and other Swedish organizations arrange annual crayfish parties.

One travel photograper tells the following story: He was going to take photographs for a Louisiana travel guide and wanted to include crayfish since it is so popular in the Cajun cuisine. However, it was not crayfish season, and he had trouble finding crayfish to take pictures of. Finally, he found a Santa Monica seafood store that had frozen crayfish available, in a package labeled “Kräftor.” It was Louisiana crayfish, exported to Sweden, prepared Swedish-style and then re-imported to Santa Monica for resale to California Swedes!

The Crayfish crawled into Sweden at the end of  the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Crayfish shells found in Stone Age garbage heaps show that the Swedes ate crayfish already then. Historic documents show that Gustav Vasa and his sons--Johan III, Erik XIV and Carl IX--arranged for crayfish to be implanted in various Swedish lakes and rivers, and, of course, held royal crayfish parties. Erik the XIV ordered crayfish for his sister Anna’s wedding in 1562, writing to the overseer of Nyköping Castle that he needed a “a big heap” of crayfish and urged the overseer “to fish for them everywhere.” Up to the 19th century crayfish was usually served warm, not cold as today.

In 1907, the Swedish crayfish, called the Noble Crayfish, was stricken by crayfish plague. The epidemic started in Lake Mälaren at Stockholm and eventually spread to other lakes and rivers. The disease came from transplanted Signal Crayfish, which is a carrier of the disease but largely immune to it.

When I was a child, the crayfish season started on August 8.  We went out very early in the morning, at 3 or 4 o’clock, when the grass was still wet with dew. Walking silently so as not to scare away the crayfish, we baited and set the traps along the creeks. Then we went back to the first traps we'd set and hauled up the crayfish. The traps were then rebaited and put back, to be checked again in the late evening, since the crayfish is most active at night. We caught bucketfuls. Years later when I visited Sweden and introduced my children to crayfish catching, we got woefully few.

In the late 60’s, Signal Crayfish was again imported from the US and transplanted in Swedish fresh waters to replace the disappearing Noble Crayfish. Recent attempts to reintroduce the Noble Crayfish, which some say tastes better than the Signal Crayfish, is hampered by the fact that it can only be transplanted in water where there’s no Signal Crayfish. It is also very sensitive to pollution and acidity.

Today’s crayfish party tradition started in the nineteenth century and is thus relatively young. Frozen crayfish is now imported to Sweden from USA, Turkey and other countries and can be bought at any time. Still, most crayfish parties take place in August and September. Many people, especially those who have not grown up with the tradition, find crayfish served the traditional Swedish way difficult and messy to eat. A search on the Internet yielded a number of crayfish recipes in addition to the traditional one: salads, soups. stews, sandwich spreads, etc.--even a crayfish guacamole (a Swedish recipe). You can find them HERE.