The original energy drink from Colonial times, haymaker’s switchel has kept New England farmers, and others, well hydrated in the humid summer months. (Rum optional).
When I was a child, once in a while someone in the family made haymakers switchel. I didn’t care for it much as a kid, but a few years ago, I thought it might be worth revisiting. My guests at the inn were always enchanted by old New England customs and foods.
I fiddled with this recipe for a long time trying to make it taste just like what I remembered from my childhood. However, I think the problem was that as an adult, I have a totally different palate, so what I thought was horrible then, actually tastes good to me now.
Even with that, switchel is an odd beverage.
The original hydrating sports drink
Also called haymaker’s punch, from Colonial times on, farmers in New England drank this as a sort of early version of an electrolyte-rich sports drink to keep from getting dehydrated when out in the fields, and often stashed a jug of it under one of the shade trees allowed to grow around the fields. The mixture was made of water, cider vinegar, ginger, and whatever sweetener they had on hand, either molasses (the most traditional), honey, or maple syrup.
Now, there are some pretty horrible switchel recipes out there, most of them contain way too much molasses.
All grown up now, it has now found its way to market shelves and trendy menus, often with the addition of a spirit. The addition of the spirits is nothing new. Indeed, the Old Farmers Almanac reported in its 1962 edition, that switchel was a favorite drink in Colonial times, and soon after, of the members of the new Congress, with the addition of rum served in a large bowl for everyone to dip into and enjoy. See article here: Old Farmers Almanac.
A health tonic
With or without rum, the drink was hydrating and filled with potassium and vitamins. It was also used as a tonic, and many old New Englanders still have a little nip of cider vinegar and honey each morning just to keep their metabolisms pepped up.
Now, there are some pretty horrible switchel recipes out there, most of them contain way too much molasses, a strong flavor. Other recipes use maple syrup or honey. After many trials, I’ve settled on the maple syrup, my memory of the too-heavy molasses taste was actually correct. In Colonial times, the ginger used was ground since fresh ginger was rarely available. Here, I used both the ground and the fresh ginger to liven it up.
Change it up
I think the addition of the lemons is essential! Also, a little lightly bruised peppermint enhances the flavor when added at the end. If you like, add a bit of dark rum, just to keep the tradition alive.
Our inn guests loved a glass of this while sitting outside on the porch on a hot summer’s afternoon. I served this recently at an event, and it was also a hit. A smoldering hot day, the switchel was refreshing and vibrant and quenched the thirst beautifully, even though we weren’t out in the fields making hay.
2 quarts water
1/4 cup finely minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground ginger
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
2 lemons, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. sea salt
Bring the water to a simmer and add the fresh and ground gingers.
Set aside until room temperature.
Add the vinegar and maple syrup along with the sliced lemons and salt.
Mix well and chill for a couple of hours, strain, and serve. You can also add a little fresh mint!
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