fbpx
Farmers Almanac
The Farmers Almanac
Order your copy today!

What The Heck Is Switchel?

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest Share on LinkedIn Subscribe by Email Print This Post
What The Heck Is Switchel?

Nowadays, if you’re feeling thirsty on a hot day, you might reach for an ice-cold soda or sports drink to hydrate. But what did people drink before there was soda? They reached for a jar full of switchel! But what the heck is it?

What Is Switchel?

Throughout the 1700s and into the early 1900s, switchel was the drink of choice when you needed something to quench your thirst. In fact, people often referred to it as “haymaker’s punch” because there were few things more refreshing when you were hard at work tending your fields. Today, even though this traditional beverage still lives on in a few Amish communities, switchel is something that few people have heard of. Luckily for us, this nearly forgotten beverage is starting to make a comeback!

History

Historians don’t agree on exactly where switchel came from. Some say that the Amish brought it with them when they came to the United States. Others believe that switchel originated in China or the Caribbean.

No matter where its origins lie, however, all switchel recipes have a few common ingredients: water, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and a sweetener. Traditionally, switchel was sweetened with molasses, but throughout history, people have also used maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar.

But why the vinegar? Some historians suppose that the vinegar serves as a substitute for alcohol since vinegar is essentially wine that has gone bad. It could also be that switchel was a substitute for lemonade, but since the colonial New Englanders that popularized this drink didn’t have lemons, they used vinegar instead, for tartness.

Although we aren’t sure where switchel came from, we do know that colonial farmers believed that drinking hot drinks while working in the Sun was good for you, helping you keep a balanced body temperature in relation to the heat outside. The problem was that no one actually wanted to drink a hot beverage on a hot day. For that reason, alcohol was a popular beverage because it created the same “heat” sensation as it went down. Similarly, the ginger in switchel causes a mild feeling of warmth when consumed, and that made this drink popular among farmers tending their fields under the scorching sun.

Is It Good For You?

Although it tastes something like a tart soda, switchel is much better for you than any bottled soft drink. Each ingredient (except for the water) is high in potassium – especially molasses. Because potassium is an electrolyte, it replaces those lost as you sweat.

On top of the electrolytes, each ingredient also comes with vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars, making switchel a much better option than a bottle of pop or a sports drink.

How to Make Switchel

All switchel recipes contain apple cider vinegar and ginger, either fresh or dried. After that, you’ll have some choices. Use plain water or add some fizz with sparkling water. And, no matter which sweetener you choose – molasses, maple syrup, honey or brown sugar – you can tweak the amounts depending on whether you like your switchel tangy or mild.

Then there are the extras. Many people love to add a little bit of lemon juice. Other popular flavorings include orange zest, mint and berry flavors.

If you’re ready to try switchel for yourself, you can get started with this basic recipe:

Basic Switchel

1 cup water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all of the ingredients (plus any other flavorings) together and let the switchel steep for at least a couple of hours so that the ginger flavor infuses the beverage. Then pour it over some ice in a mason jar and enjoy!

The greatest thing about switchel (besides the refreshing taste and healthy ingredients) is that it’s so versatile. You can make it by the cup or by the pitcher, all while tweaking the recipe in any way you like. However you choose to make it, switchel is one tradition worth trying!

15 comments

1 Norma { 09.28.16 at 9:20 am }

this goes along with the mason jar tea my grandfather took to the bush . he would put in water tea bags and sugar and leave it sit in sun to drink with his lunch.

2 Clarence Kozakiewicz { 10.22.15 at 12:44 am }

I have everything on hand except the cream and it sounds like it’s worth the trip to grocery store to get some. I’ll be making it this weekend! What a difference a sentence makes–the recipe now includes the full recipe as it appears in The Garden-Fresh Cookbook!

3 Amber Kanuckel { 08.18.15 at 9:56 pm }

I bet Truvia would work well as a low-sugar option. Someone else mentioned club soda, and here lately, I’ve been mixing it into my switchel to give it some extra fizz!

4 Ratbitw { 08.18.15 at 3:15 pm }

May have to try this…am dibetic….will use Truvia for sweetner.

5 bonita { 08.18.15 at 6:40 am }

Bush hog is a brand of pull behind mower that is attached to a tractor to mow fields. People commonly referr to bush hogging the fields for this reason. This is done on pasture land to reduce weeds or for aesthetics depending on how you use your land.

6 Sandy Morris { 08.17.15 at 11:29 pm }

The apple cider vinegar, if it is the ‘real’ kind with the ‘mother’ is also a powerful probiotic and has lots of good electrolytes in it. I would be careful with honey, especially raw, as it can cause botulism if allowed to steep when diluted into a switchel for too long. Same reason it’s not recommended for babies. Molasses and real maple syrup are chock full of tons of minerals and slowly metabolized sugars. Even raw sugar has much more nutrition and benefits than refined white sugar, which has no redeeming qualities above taste.

Now I want to know, what the heck is Bush Hog? Same thing as switchel? Does anyone have a recipe?

I’m just about done with the hot and dry weather we are having here in the West, but I may eat my words if we have a really wet fall and winter because of El Nino!

7 Dave { 08.17.15 at 10:38 pm }

What is Bush hog,if it isn’t a secret?

8 Margery { 08.17.15 at 8:08 pm }

Switchel served cool, not hot.

9 Margery { 08.17.15 at 8:07 pm }

MY father’s family in CT were dairy farmers. Switchel was taken out to the hayfields and served COLD or cool, not hot. Electrolytes acted much like Gatorade, I suspect.

10 Amy { 08.17.15 at 8:03 pm }

Ok, what’s bush hog?

11 Brad { 08.17.15 at 7:39 pm }

I drank this back in the 60s in the hayfields as a kid. Forgot all about it. Bush hog a little now and will make a batch. It sure does quench your thirst. I’m surprised someone hasn’t bottled it and make a million off of it. Surely an old time drink.

12 Brad { 08.17.15 at 7:36 pm }

I remember drinking this as a kid in the hayfields back in the 60s. Forgot all about it. It sure does quench your thirst. Still bush hog some and will surely make some. WOW

13 Daisy { 08.17.15 at 3:18 pm }

This sounds a lot like a shrub that I made just yesterday.

1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Blueberries, crushed
3/4 Cup sugar
2 inch piece of ginger, grated

Let steep in the fridge for a couple of days. Add to gingerale, club soda, etc. as a flavoring.

Tart. And full of probiotics.

14 Deborah { 08.17.15 at 2:48 pm }

Cliff be sure to let me know what it tastes like please!

15 cliff garten { 08.17.15 at 2:00 pm }

Ok, made my first ever switchel I used honey as sweetener. ground ginger. apple cider vinegar and water. Steeping now in a couple of hours….down the hatch!

Leave a Comment

Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved. Those comments that are vague or are simply submitted in order to promote a product, service or web site, although not necessarily considered "spam," are generally not approved.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

Reading Farmers' Almanac on Tablet with Doggie

Don't Miss A Thing!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter and Get a FREE Download!