Switchel- "A pleasant and wholesome liquor"
"Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty. Ginger-water would not make them sick, as plain cold water would when they were so hot." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
This has become my new favourite treat of the summer. Switchel is an old-timey beverage traditionally made with molasses, ginger and cider vinegar mixed water. Yes, you read that right. Vinegar. Also, known as 'haymaker's punch', it was thought to be a healthful, restorative drink especially for field labourers working all day under the hot summer sun in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Check out this article, for an excellent history of the drink and how it came to be. There's a recipe too.
My 21st century version goes like this:
I mix some powdered ginger with a finger or two of local maple syrup or honey. Then I add a finger or two of one of my many herb infused vinegars. Pictured above is my dandelion flower infused apple cider vinegar. I've also made it with my mugwort vinegar and nettle vinegar. I think my violet flower infused vinegar will be lovely too and plan to try that next! Oh, and my lemon balm vinegar too! Don't use white vinegar, ACV is best. To this mix I add a sparkling mineral water from Quebec. I taste a little and adjust the vinegar to sweet ratio as needed. I'm not a huge fan of super cold drinks so I may or may not add ice. And that's it!
I know the addition of vinegar probably makes the whole thing sound highly suspect, and it might not be to everyone's taste, but I am seriously addicted to this drink. It's sweet and tart and refreshing and I find it a wonderful alternative to soda and juice. On the really hot days, especially after I've been working in the garden or out wildcrafting, I crave this drink and get excited about going home and making me some switchel!