Switching to Switchel

Switchel with lemon

It’s time to bring in the hay.  Not something I am directly involved in, but see happening all around me and am impressed by the long days the haymakers put in.  Something exceptionally energizing must be fueling this operation…

Making hay

As it turns out, haymaking has its own energy drink, or at least, traditionally it did. Switchel has been reached for on hot August afternoons for more than a hundred years in these parts. It is possible that this undeniably refreshing drink made from cold well water, sweet maple syrup, electrolyte-filled molasses and energizing apple cider vinegar, traces its roots back to a similar drink enjoyed in Hippocrates’ day. Oxymel was a medicinal mixture of water, honey and vinegar.  Apparently, we’ve been drinking vinegar for a good long time.

A few years ago my daughter attended a summer camp at Shelburne Museum, called “A week in 1795.” She introduced me to Switchel with the following recipe:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • water, to taste

Combine the vinegar, molasses, maple syrup and ginger in a bowl. Vinegar mixture serves as a concentrate. Combine with water in a glass or pitcher to taste.

I like to make it with seltzer water (store-bought, or made from tap water with the help of a counter-top SodaStream soda maker) for an sparkly effervescent libation.  For the highest nutritional value, I would recommend using raw apple cider vinegar, blackstrap molasses, and grade B maple syrup.  If you want to substitute honey for maple syrup, look for raw (unfiltered and unheated) locally harvested honey as your healthiest option.

switchel front

With an interest in keeping traditional foods alive, the Vermont Switchel Co has emerged on the real food scene. If you are Vermont, make sure to look for her ready-made bottles of switchel on more and more grocery and general store shelves, and on YourFarmstand.com. Her website includes in-depth nutritional information as well as recipes in which to use switchel.

Switchel above

If you’re inspired to mix up a batch of your own, I’ll leave you with another recipe. Today, on a glorious August day, I’ll raise a glass to Scott Nearing (who would have been 130 years old!), and all the back-to-the-land, homesteading, traditional customs and foodways he honored, practiced and wrote about.  Therefore, from his wife’s cookbook Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking and Pithy Quotations (Good Life Series) here is the Nearing’s Switchel Recipe:

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Stir up together and dilute to taste with more cold water. A pinch of baking soda will make it foam up like beer or ginger ale.

Either recipe can be tailored to taste (more or less ginger, maybe a slice of lemon, or a pinch of nutmeg, etc) without skimping on the real food refreshment.  It’s an easy-to-make replacement for expensive, mass-produced and increasingly worrisome (including, – yikes! – death!!) commercial “energy drinks.”

Keep it simple and safe, staying cool and hydrated with real food and water.

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