My mom grew up on a big Vermont dairy farm, and every summer, they would haul endless gallons of something called switchel out to the field during haying season. Mom’s recipe for the homemade beverage was simple: apple cider vinegar sweetened with maple syrup (both made on the farm), diluted with cold spring water. Here's the recipe.
Yuck! We turned up our noses at the thought of drinking sweetened vinegar.
But guess what? Switchel, a drink that harkens back to Colonial haymakers, has become trendy. You’ll find references to it in upscale food magazines and it's even being bottled.
Historians say our Colonial ancestors may have adapted the drink from a Caribbean recipe, since some versions of it contain ginger and molasses, neither produced in Colonial America and sadly, imported as part of the infamous “triangle trade” of slaves, molasses, and rum.
Apple Cider Vinegar: Hydration, Energy, and Electrolytes
Haying in the days before mechanical baling meant long days pitching hay into trailers in the hot sun. It certainly qualified in today’s sports-speak as a “grueling” workout.
The haying crews needed frequent hydration, quick energy, and electrolyte replacement. Homemade switchel probably did the trick just like today’s sports drinks.
Although the combined electrolyte values of cider vinegar and maple syrup are relatively low, sipping the drink throughout the day will help replenish the minerals lost through sweat. You can better balance the electrolytes by adding a pinch of salt to your switchel, as many farm crews did without knowing it by munching on salty homemade dill pickles. You can also find out how to make dill pickles to serve with your switchel.
As an aside, in addition to the slow energy boost of pure maple syrup, University of Rhode Island researchers have identified 54 “bioactive” phytocompounds in pure maple syrup believed to benefit human health.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Health
Of the many health claims made for apple cider vinegar, some have a research base to support them, others do not. If you’d like to explore them, go to Google and look for published research on your condition of interest, rather than relying on popular articles and anecdotal reports alone.
I always keep a gallon or two on hand for household cleaning and disinfecting tasks. For years, I’ve used it as the rinse for my cheap, simple, safe hair-cleaning strategy: “Wash” by pouring a quarter-cup of plain borax mixed with a little warm water, rinse with cider vinegar, also mixed with warm water.
But when I’m adding it to a drink, a tincture, or salad dressing, or anything else meant for swallowing, I’m fussy. I use unpasteurized, unfiltered, organic vinegar bottled in glass, with the “mother” still intact.
Mom's Switchel Recipe
1 gallon plain, unchlorinated water (or use 1 or 2 quarts to make a switchel “base” suitable for diluting with seltzer, alcohol, or fruit juice)
1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 cup (or less, taste until you get the right blend of sweet and sour) pure maple syrup
Stir all ingredients together and chill.
Optional: Grate a knob of fresh ginger root into one cup of the water, bring to a boil, and let sit for an hour or more. Then strain, pressing to remove the ginger juice, and mix the juice with the other switchel ingredients.
Almanac Switchel Recipe
Here’s a classic Switchel recipe, which was unearthed from the archives of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Like many traditional recipes, it mixes molasses and ginger with apple cider vinegar.
Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar
If you grow apples, you can easily make your own apple cider vinegar, too. Just don't toss those peels and cores!
I like this recipe that uses apple peels and cores—a great use for what’s left when you make a big batch of applesauce or a bunch of pies for the holidays. (I’d use maple syrup or honey instead of cane sugar.)
Finally, you can serve your purchased or homemade switchel cold or warm with cinnamon stick or a bit of grated ginger. (The warm version tastes a bit like mulled cider, only better.) Some folks spike their switchel with beer or vodka; others get their buzz by adding plain or flavored seltzer to a concentrated switchel base.