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Switchel: An Age-Old Drink Rediscovered

July 28, 2015

Credit: Catherine Boeckmann

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Need a cool drink on a hot day? You should try making switchel, a refreshing drink from the colonial era and early American farming days.

Switchel was how hardworking farmers quenched their thirst out in the hot, sunbaked fields. That's enough of an endorsement for me!

This drink is also called Haymaker's Punch (because it was drunk while haying fields) and it's easy to make with just a few ingredients. Cider vinegar is the main ingredient—which many folks find has added health benefits. 

Switchel is not only hydrating, but also energizing.  It will give you that electrolyte boost better than any pricey energy drink or soda. It's basically a health tonic (but don't tell your children).

Switchel Recipe from the Almanac Archives

Here's a classic recipe from the 1930's which was unearthed from the archives of The Old Farmer's Almanac.

1 gallon water
1 1/2 cups molasses
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (ground)

If you want to cut the molasses, that's fine. You can use a few tablespoons of maple syrup, honey, or just find the balance that suits you. Remember to start with less sugar—as you can always add more. Switchel shouldn't coat your mouth; it should taste refreshing. Another idea is to add a teaspoon of fresh lemon or lime juice for zing.

Switchel Drink Recipe from an Almanac Reader

Here's another switch recipe from Dennis Miles, an Almanac Facebook fan and full-time blacksmith. He drinks his switchel from a mid-19th century haymaker's jug. (Dennis, send us a photo!)

  • 1 gal. water
  • 2 cups raw or dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (fresh)

Serve in mason jars.

My friend, Wendy, and I decided to make a pitcher one summer's day. 

Mmmm! Switchel is so refreshing and pleasantly tart. And, boy, is it drinkable—much more so than plain water. I'll say that it did quench my thirst for water, but not for switchel. We drank half the pitcher and felt quite, ah, saturated!

You can make the switchel last longer or less sweet by adding more water or a bubbly seltzer. (My guess is it could turn into a cocktail drink, too.)

Drink from a mason jar or jug if you have one!

Find more summertime drink recipes to cool off.

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Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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This is a surprisingly

By Elizabeth Watkins on August 21

This is a surprisingly refreshing drink! I thought that the molasses and dark brown sugar would overpower, but the flavors are wonderfully balanced. It is tart and sweet and with the addition of carbonated water it is better than a soft drink! Yum!

Made a batch of this today

By Ted Prewitt on August 13

Made a batch of this today and it's delicious! I used a microplane to grind up a tablespoon of fresh ginger and used a little less than a half cup of molasses and about a half cup of honey for sweetener. I didn't want it real sweet or have too much of a molasses taste. It turned out great!

This sounds absolutely

By Donna Foust-Criger

This sounds absolutely wonderful I can't wait to try it thanks so much for sharing...

Does anyone think Stevia

By Susan Shiptoski

Does anyone think Stevia could be used in place of all the sugary ideas? I limit my sugar because it causes too much inflamation in my arthritic joints

Yes, that's what I use.

By Karen Bell on August 29

Yes, that's what I use.

Sure, you'd have to try it

By Almanac Staff on August 10

Sure, you'd have to try it and see how it tastes. Let us know if you do!

You should really state fresh

By novella

You should really state fresh ginger in the ingredient list if that is what you are calling for. I made it with ground, YUK! Will have to try again with fresh.

It does say fresh!

By OhItsJustMe

It does say fresh!

The recipe was tested with

By Almanac Staff

The recipe was tested with fresh ginger. We never tried ground ginger and didn't know how it would turn out. We apologize that you were the tester here, unbeknownst to you! We will state "fresh" ginger above.

For those NOT out in the hay

By Phydeaux

For those NOT out in the hay fields, I've found this drink to be particularly refreshing. 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 cup sugar, and fill the blender up with watermelon, seedless, cut into cubes, and frozen solid (about 4 cups). Using the 'crushed ice' setting, chop/crush until slushy, adding water thru the top to make a slurry. Then add 8 cups of water, blend until well-mixed. This also makes a great mixer! ;)

Thanks for the posts.Going to

By Ruthie Roberson

Thanks for the posts.Going to try this one.

How much powdered ginger do i

By marrie bruce

How much powdered ginger do i use. i have NO juicer and no way to make powder ginger

When I made it the first time

By Elizabeth Watkins on August 23

When I made it the first time I found the fresh grated ginger was too much after a few hours. When I made it a second time I peeled the fresh ginger and cut it into chunks that I could fish out when I felt the ginger flavor was strong enough. Worked well!

Ginger is strong so you can

By Crespo

Ginger is strong so you can muddle raw ginger in the drink for flavor and strain it out... Im a bartender and thats what i would do anyway ;)

when you freeze your ginger

By missrlee

when you freeze your ginger root and then shave it with a cheese / choclate grater or micro food planer,....you will get a fine ginger powder. the root keeps for ever if sealed in plasic and freezer bag...i just peel a bit of the root and use in my marinades as well

Hi folks, For those who find

By Almanac Staff

Hi folks, For those who find the Switchel too sugary, you could replace the sugar and molasses with a few tablespoons of maple syrup. Just find the right balanace of sweetness for you. Also, we like to add some zing with a couple tablespoons of lime juice.

Ginger heats your body,

By ginger robbins

Ginger heats your body, that's why it's used for menstrual cramps....wonder why they used it in a Summer cooler???

Because if you raise your

By Littekan

Because if you raise your body temperature on a hot day you feel cooler. Same idea as drinking a hot drink on a hot day makes you feel cooler

it is because raising your

By Dakine614

it is because raising your body heat makes the outside feel cooler to you. This is why you should drink hot beverages and soup in the summer, not ice cold drinks. Cools down your body

It doesn't say what type of

By wendy everett

It doesn't say what type of ginger was called for. Powdered or grated fresh? What did the recipe tester use?

What do u think they used

By Dakine614

What do u think they used back then??

This recipe calls for fresh

By Almanac Staff

This recipe calls for fresh ginger. One teaspoon grated fresh ginger equals 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. The fresher ingredients, the better, but not everyone can get fresh ginger. Not sure how ground would turn out.

Hello! Should the ginger be

By Julianne

Hello! Should the ginger be fresh? And if so, how prepared? What is the original recipe? Would love to see it.

Thank you in advance!

Definitely use fresh ginger

By Almanac Staff

Definitely use fresh ginger if you have it. This recipe is all about freshness and the best ingredients. (There aren't many of them.) This recipe calls for grating it. Or, perhaps you could try putting it through a juicer?

Switchel - Blackstrap Molasses

By crazywoman

sassygogo, I rather doubt that the Blackstrap is the problem. I think it is just a LOT of molasses. I would have a hard time drinking that (don't think I could choke it down, tho I'm like it sounds like you are, and hate to throw out! Hate waste!)with that much molasses in it.
But then, I'm not a huge molasses fan. When I do use molasses, I only use Blackstrap. At least there is quite a few nutrients for that many carbs.
Speaking of carbs, I also couldn't drink this as it is SO carby!!!
And I personally am not a ginger fan either. Especially powdered ginger.
But that is me! Everyone is different. We all have different tastes. Some people can also handle the carbs, I can't! All in all this just doesn't sound like my cup of tea.
Not putting the recipe down for everyone else, just not for me.

I am interested in trying out

By hazel king

I am interested in trying out both of the recipe suggestions. I'm like the first commenter...I LOVE blackstrap molasses. I even use a tablespoon in my one cup of decaf "cold" coffee each morning! I started out using it for the calcium, as I needed a LOT! now I'm hooked on the taste of the coffee with the blackstrap in it! not sure about the ginger though, but may try it anyway. thanks for the recipes! very interested in what farmers did years ago to "get by"!

Switchel

By sassygogo

uh all I had was Blackstrap Molasses.......my results, yuck. Maybe it needs to be colder or don't use Blackstrap. Regardless I will choke it down, can't see waisting good ingredients. Maybe ice cold will help. Wouldn't this drink work to keep you regular?? Maybe it should be drunk in moderation? I though molasses was a natural laxative?

switchel

By Gayle Costello

The recipe I have, passed down from my great aunt, does not call for mollasses but rather cidar vinegar.Tangy!

I would love you're recipe

By Susan Shiptoski

I would love you're recipe with the Cider vinegar please!!!

Switchel recipe

By Mary M Frost

Since I don't usually have fresh lemons on hand, can anyone tell me approximately how many tablespoons of juice 1 lemon produces?

One lemon equals about 4T

By Lisa craig

One lemon equals about 4T juice, or 1/4 cup

switchel recipe

By maryeagee

My drink of choice is a package of lemonade drink mix, one qt. water, and an equal amount of brewed tea, and sugar to taste. VERY thirst-quenching.


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