Also known as “haymaker’s punch,” switchel is a forgotten piece of American culinary history. Originating in the Caribbean and then popularized in the American colonies by the late 17th century, it was used as an effective thirst-quencher for thirsty farmers during the heat of summer. Drinking a vinegar-based drink might seem odd, but the water and honey tame the vinegar into something much tastier than you would expect. A healthy dose of ginger takes it into the flavor territory of a light ginger beer, and it’s made even better if you cut it with sparkling mineral water. The ginger and cider vinegar also give this drink a host of gut-friendly qualities (tender tummies and pregnant women, I’m looking at you!), but honestly, health benefits aside, this stuff is good enough that even my toddler scrambles for it when he sees me pull a pitcher of it from the fridge. If you’d like to dress it up a bit, garnish it with a lemon wheel and a sprig of rosemary, but it’s fabulous without any prettying up.
As a side note, this drink SCREAMS for experimentation. Use the recipe as a guideline. Looking at the ingredients, you can see that switchel is similar to ginger lemonade, except it uses cider vinegar in place of lemon juice for the acid component, changing the whole feel of the drink. With that in mind, you can play around quite a bit with it. Try using lime juice as the acid and use palm sugar for your sweetener, or try other combinations of acids and sweeteners. I love the basic switchel, but I can see some iteration of lime juice + turbinado sugar + muddled strawberries showing up at my backyard barbecues as the weather heats up.
Ingredients (for 2 drinks)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp honey (or molasses, maple syrup, or brown sugar, though honey is preferable)*
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 cups water
1. Mix all ingredients together in a small pitcher and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a couple of days. Serve over ice. I like mine diluted with sparkling water (fill half the glass with sparkling water and half with switchel).
*I used alfalfa honey for the switchel in the photograph above. Different honeys/sweeteners will affect the color of the final switchel. If yours is darker than mine, no worries- lots of switchels are quite dark, especially if sweetened with molasses.