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Switchel: The original Colonial era sports drink
June 8, 2011 5:04 AM   Subscribe

It's going to be a hot one today in the northeast. Why not make some switchel to stay cool?

Also known as haymakers punch, switchel was consumed by field workers during the hay harvest in the days before commercial sports drinks. Recipes vary, but the basic ingredients are the same: Apple cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, ginger and water. With the exception of water, all of the ingredients are natural sources of potassium, an electrolyte. Some recipes also call for oatmeal, presumably for added body and flavor.

As mentioned in the Smithsonian Magazine blog post above, its possible that switchel evolved from an older honey and vinegar concoction called Oxymel. If these folk recipes all sound rather vile, you might try a modern switchel-inspired cocktail instead: The Oxymelon.

(Previously on Ask MeFi)
posted by usonian (62 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Switchel--it's got what plants crave!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:14 AM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why not make some switchel to stay cool?

Alternately you could opt for a different take on the contents of that first article and drink rum all day.
posted by nanojath at 5:22 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


SWITCHEL IS AWESOME

You drink it and you say to yourself "This is familiar. Is this familiar? I think this is familiar. I think this is a good drink." It is hard to talk in complex sentences when drinking because your brain is busy thinking about how awesome switchel is.

The recipe I use is from the odd-looking Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop, which is a great book if you're into interesting drinks of the non-alcoholic persuasion.
3 to 4 quarts water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup light molasses
2 oz fresh grated gingerroot

Combine 1 quart water, the vinegar, sugar, molasses, and
gingerroot and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered. Remove from
heat, cover, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
Aaaaand that's basically it. It makes a lot but it scales down easily.
posted by soma lkzx at 5:33 AM on June 8, 2011 [40 favorites]


"Haymakers punch"? Is that a pun or the root of the modern usage of "haymaker"?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:33 AM on June 8, 2011


Huh. I may need this before I get home. soma lkzx's recipe makes somewhat more sense -- I would think that it would be hard to get the molasses to dissolve in the cold water, when it was added later (maple syrup would do a better job), and fresh grated ginger sounds nicer than the powdered stuff. Time to experiment!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Haymakers punch"? Is that a pun or the root of the modern usage of "haymaker"?

Also known as haymakers punch, switchel was consumed by field workers during the hay harvest...

posted by DU at 5:45 AM on June 8, 2011


Alternatively, for a drink that entertains while being created I can highly recommend the Ginger Beer Plant (some history from the New Scientist - the prototype beverage producing lava lamp formed from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (similar to kombucha, sourdough, kefir...).

Not limited to ginger beer either, just been having a lunch-time quaff of a rather nice, slight tipsiness inducing, raspberryade mine made me.

Also tried honey for a fizzy mead, elderflower, a spicy root beer type concoction that turned out a bit like coke, but the sort of coke that you'd drink while hanging out with Omar Khayam before starting in on the wine. It's really quite fascinating the way it reacts with different things, the honey, for instance, caused it to churn out tons of surface yeast; adding a bit of orange extract oil leads to a nice foam...

Scotch bonnet chillis weren't my best idea though, though it's nice a 1/2 teaspoon at a time.
posted by titus-g at 5:49 AM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also known as haymakers punch, switchel was consumed by field workers during the hay harvest...

And "haymaker" is more commonly used, at least in this century, as a term for a wild, powerful punch. So I'm wondering if "haymaker" and "punch" were already associated and this is a pun, or if that's how they got associated in the first place (or it could be coincidence).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:57 AM on June 8, 2011


New England has a long history with barely-consumable beverages. I could go for a Moxie right now.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:01 AM on June 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


Alternatively, for a drink that entertains while being created I can highly recommend the Ginger Beer Plant (some history from the New Scientist - the prototype beverage producing lava lamp formed from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (similar to kombucha, sourdough, kefir...).

If anyone is looking to purchase it, I recommend gingerbeerplant.net, along with the GingerBeerPlant Yahoo group.

There are a lot of other cultures floating around out there for sale that aren't "real" ginger beer plant - one can just create a symbiotic bacteria/yeast colony easily enough, but it lacks the history!!! The gingerbeerplant.net one was originally sourced from a German culture bank, which is a pretty weird place from which you can order all sorts of microorganisms for a hefty fee.

Fun fact: Once upon a time, the usage of ginger beer plant for carbonation was what separated ginger beer from ginger ale.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:02 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always expect these refreshing, old time recipes to have frankly bizarre ingredients in them, like a teaspoon of lye or something, and I am always disappointed when they don't.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to say "No, because there's vinegar in it. Ugh.", but you folk have convinced me. I like the recipes where I don't need to wait for a long fermentation process.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:34 AM on June 8, 2011


I remember this from one of the Little House on the Prairie books! Laura brings Pa a jug of cold water mixed with ginger and vinegar when he's out threshing the hay.
posted by yarly at 6:38 AM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know what else works great when you're really overheated and need to cool down?

Chrysanthemum tea. I used to drink it all the time after a hot day broiling in the hateful Phoenix sun.

Ancient Chinese Secret, or something.

I'll have to try out this switchel stuff sometime. Sounds interesting.
posted by hippybear at 6:40 AM on June 8, 2011


Shrub is my peculiar poison, though Moxie makes the best ice cream floats.
posted by sonascope at 7:03 AM on June 8, 2011


Maaan, that's what I miss about living on the American East Coast: crazy homemade soda. The French would never understand the motivation behind a drink that was non-alcoholic, unless it was a "Cocalieet" or "Cocazayro" because, you know, it's not easy keeping up an average BMI of 19.5 with all that butter around.
posted by Mooseli at 7:04 AM on June 8, 2011


Get to know MOTE CON HUESILLO.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:16 AM on June 8, 2011


Damnit, now I need to make switchel today and order some of that ginger beer plant.

(I am a sucker for anything ginger). This thread is awesome.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:33 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


3 to 4 quarts water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup light molasses
2 oz fresh grated gingerroot

Combine 1 quart water, the vinegar, sugar, molasses, and
gingerroot and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered. Remove from
heat, cover, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.


and then add the 2-3 quarts of water back in??? I sure hope so...
posted by Billiken at 8:22 AM on June 8, 2011


Last year's ask.me about this "made-up drink".
posted by crush-onastick at 8:38 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember this from one of the Little House on the Prairie books! Laura brings Pa a jug of cold water mixed with ginger and vinegar when he's out threshing the hay.

yarly, me too! Beat me to it.
posted by Specklet at 9:05 AM on June 8, 2011


and then add the 2-3 quarts of water back in??? I sure hope so...

ARE YOU A HAYMAKER OR A HAYBABY???

and by that i mean yes.
posted by soma lkzx at 9:22 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of kvass that is everywhere in Latvia (from where my wife hails). It's made from fermented rye bread. I want to like it, but can't really make myself, can I?
posted by Harald74 at 9:25 AM on June 8, 2011


Molasses are apparently hard to find in Norway, except as a food additive for horses. Is the horsey kind suitable for human consumption? It's also really cheap, even for the 300 kg packaging...
posted by Harald74 at 9:27 AM on June 8, 2011


Muscovado sugar's pretty close to molasses, with ginger I tend to for 50/50 muscovado & demerara for a nice dark edge to it.
posted by titus-g at 9:32 AM on June 8, 2011


I always expect these refreshing, old time recipes to have frankly bizarre ingredients in them, like a teaspoon of lye or something, and I am always disappointed when they don't.

Apple cider vinegar in a drink is pretty damn odd.
posted by smackfu at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2011


Harald74, that is just weird. How do you make ginger snaps?! Here is a discussion of molasses substitutes for Norwegians, because I don't think you should eat the horse molasses.
posted by nanojath at 10:06 AM on June 8, 2011


MetaFilter: I don't think you should eat the horse molasses.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 AM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


An interesting article I ran into a while back on the history of ginga and root beer:

Root Beer and Ginger Beer Heritage

Have to wonder if the lashings of ginger beer in the Famous Five books was the alcoholic kind: it might explain their 'adventures'. After a couple of glasses it would be easy to start believing that the innocent old couple from the vicarage were actually nazi smugglers from space...
posted by titus-g at 11:09 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did make some of this a year or two back when it bounced around FB, and I have to say that the two-quart recipe I made was ... way more than I was prepared to drink. YMMV. It was interesting, but only as a one-off.

"Haymakers punch"? Is that a pun or the root of the modern usage of "haymaker"?

Not really. The "haymaker" as a form of punching comes from the motion of the arms as they wield a scythe, i.e. a long, circular wind-up. This may have arisen because haymakers had unusual upper-body strength or were used to punching in this manner, or it may just be imitative.
posted by dhartung at 11:33 AM on June 8, 2011


Shrub is my peculiar poison, though Moxie makes the best ice cream floats.

My brain just screamed at my mouth for having to suddenly remember what Moxie tastes like. (hint: it tastes like sewer poison, cut with hate)
posted by FatherDagon at 11:45 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


OMG, I can't wait to make some switchel for myself. (Confession: I sometimes swig apple cider vinegar straight out of the jug.)
posted by PepperMax at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The horse molasses should be perfectly fine for eating. I'd just make sure you get your ingredients up to a boil - the sterile conditions might be lax. I'm not sure why you would want to give a horse molasses, though. Seems like it could produce colic.... Anyone know?

Why not make some switchel to stay cool?

Because we have lots and lots of ice cream here in New England. Also ice. And filtered tap water. Ice is this lovely invention that makes your cholera-free public tap water cold and refreshing.
posted by maryr at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2011


Sounds like mudders' milk to me.
posted by smrtsch at 12:26 PM on June 8, 2011


Why not make some switchel to stay cool?

Because we have lots and lots of ice cream here in New England. Also ice. And filtered tap water. Ice is this lovely invention that makes your cholera-free public tap water cold and refreshing.


Actually, when it comes to things like switchel or the tea I mentioned at the top of the page, the contents of the beverage have a greater cooling effect on the body than simply consuming a cold liquid.

And yes, ice is lovely. Unless you live on the Mosquito Coast. In which case, stay away.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why you would want to give a horse molasses, though. Seems like it could produce colic.... Anyone know?
To get it's appetite up, according to the discussions I browsed. It's a bit controversial, I gather.

Actually, I'm hoping that the horse molasses are OK to eat, as I like the industrial look of the medium size container. Would look lovely on the kitchen worktop.
posted by Harald74 at 12:39 PM on June 8, 2011


Harald74, that is just weird. How do you make ginger snaps?! Here is a discussion of molasses substitutes for Norwegians, because I don't think you should eat the horse molasses.

We make them with mørk sirup (dark syrup, which in your link is hinted to as coming from beets). Maybe they are close enough to try out as a substitute. But I finally found molasses at a health food store (!), but in a very small jar.
posted by Harald74 at 12:45 PM on June 8, 2011


There is someone who sells switchel concentrate at the State College, Pennsylvania farmers' market. I may have to try some when I get back to the States.
posted by dhens at 12:48 PM on June 8, 2011


Not to derail, but is Norway also a place where one cannot purchase Crisco?

I find the whole subject of what foodstuffs can be purchased where to be fascinating. Like... Vanillezucker, commonly found in a lot of German recipes... is impossible to find in the US.
posted by hippybear at 12:50 PM on June 8, 2011


Crisco? Will plant oil-based margarine do?

"Vanilla sugar" is common here in Norway as well. It's not made from proper vanilla, but vanillin, also known as C8H8O3, which is usually a byproduct from making wood pulp. Mmmm...
posted by Harald74 at 12:57 PM on June 8, 2011


it tastes like sewer poison, cut with hate

I am curious and oddly intrigued.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:01 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Will plant oil-based margarine do?

Well... Crisco is specifically a white, neutral-flavored plant lard made (I believe) from cottonseed oil... so if it's butter-flavored like a lot of margarine, it probably isn't a good substitute.

And very few things are actually made with vanilla anymore. It's kind of expensive, or something.

Anyway, just one of those odd little things, the fact that there are some things which are utterly common in some countries which other countries have never heard of. One would think that with "western" countries that wouldn't happen as much as it does. (Americans are generally pretty clueless about the idea that the rest of the world isn't just like America only with different languages, so it was a REAL shock to me when I lived overseas.)
posted by hippybear at 1:08 PM on June 8, 2011


There are few more polarizing beverages than Moxie. For those of us who like it, getting a knowing nod or thumbs-up from someone else while drinking one is like a secret handshake.

It is primarily flavored with gentian root, and was originally marketed in uncarbonated form as "Nerve Food", and carbonated as sold as a soft drink only after the FDA was formed and began cracking down on patent medicines.

Gentian root is also the chief ingredient in Angostura bitters, if that helps. If you enjoy beverages on the Root Beer/Sarsaparilla/Birch Beer/Jagermeister end of the spectrum you might like Moxie.
posted by usonian at 1:27 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hippybear; margarine meant for baking is fairly neutral. But we have this coconut-based white lard which is a vital ingredient in the world's most massive Christmas cake up here. It's more neutral still.
posted by Harald74 at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2011


Maryr: molasses is highly palatable to horses and is used to cut dust in chopped and rolled grains. I feed my horses COB (corn, oats, and barley--also known as 3-way) with molasses in winter. In the summer, I feed COB w/o molasses and wet it down to cut the dust. The ponies are much happier with molasses, but it's fattening and ferments in the heat.

In feeding molasses, colic isn't a problem unless you overfeed, or if your horse has Cushings disease.

*heads out to the hay field to see if they've got any switchel*
posted by BlueHorse at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Might want to check that horse molasses is just molasses, my only experience with the agricultural form was as winter feed on the farm (when I were a kiddywink) for the sheep, which apparently also has extra yow specific stuff added - http://www.molassesfeed.com/sheepfeedpage.aspx, not to say we didn't eat the animal feed, purple dyed potatoes taste just as good. On the other hand, sure it would be fine if you distill it after...

it tastes like sewer poison, cut with hate

I am curious and oddly intrigued.
posted by benito.strauss


I also am now determined to try some... and am wondering what spices could best approximate an existential fugue state with a hint of absent minded jolliness. For a morning drink, y'know.
posted by titus-g at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2011


<Boston_filter>

Okay, where can I get some Moxie? Damnit, I live in the Fenway, and I don't ever recall seeing it in a store around here. Southie? Charlestown?

Help me, Mayor Curley! I voted for you - three times in the last election.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:55 PM on June 8, 2011


Moxie is delicious and I'm glad you don't like it, more for me then.
posted by anotherkate at 3:58 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be suspicious of beet molasses -- Harold McGee says of beet sugar, "sometimes carries earthy, rancid off-odors ... [and] traces of defensive chemicals called saponins, which resemble soaps." He goes on to say that its poor reputation may be left over from the inadequate refineries of the early 20th century, but if the sugar is better these days, I presume all that stuff is coming off in the molasses.

And kvas ... just ... you never know what you're going to get, with kvas. Some kinds are a niche pop, oversweetened and with a woody flavor, like root beer recreated by aspartame-addicted chimpanzees. Some are a sour-and-sweet near beer with an unparalleled power to quench a hot day's thirst. Some have caramel undertones. Some have live yeast. Some have mint and apples, some lemon, some blackcurrant. You never know. I've accumulated some recipes, and may try them this summer if I can distract myself long enough from switchel and ginger ale.
posted by eritain at 4:50 PM on June 8, 2011


Here in Japan barley tea (mugicha) is very popular in summer time as a cooling drink. I remember buying this tea at the Kansai airport just minutes after I first landed in Japan. It was the first thing I ever bought and I thought it was awful. Fast forward to now, years later, and I have completely jumped the fence on mugicha; I love the stuff now. They say it cools the body, that may be true, but I'm hot and thirsty, a cold glass of mugicha is what I reach for first.
posted by zardoz at 8:37 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, where can I get some Moxie? Damnit, I live in the Fenway, and I don't ever recall seeing it in a store around here. Southie? Charlestown?

I dunno where my grandpa used to get his*, but I think your best bet is to call these guys and ask. They're the bottlers.

*Star Market before it became Shaws, probably. But their site turns up nothing now.
posted by Diablevert at 8:52 PM on June 8, 2011


threshing the hay.
No offense, but aren't there any folks who grew up on a farm here? Dude, that seriously ranks my head (quoting my sons here) . If your hay is threshing out, you've cut it at least two weeks to late. The whole idea of grass hay is to save the nutrients into the flower head before it goes to seed. You cut it early, and nothing threshes out, just juvenile milky seeds in the seed head which stay with the stem while making Hay of it.
-invoking my Scandinavian Grandfather, too.
-
posted by primdehuit at 11:20 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've filled my water bottle on my bike with switchel since I discovered it in an AskMe thread a while ago. Whats so great about it is that it doesn't make you feel sick when you chug it like water does.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:43 AM on June 9, 2011


tastes like sewer poison, cut with hate

Ah, New Hampshire!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:21 AM on June 9, 2011


Thanks to everyone who answered my non-AskMe question ^_^

benito.strauss - I believe I saw it at Market Basket in Somerville last time I was there, but I can't be certainly. I'll look more specifically when I'm there next (hopefully this weekend).

BTW, I saw something akin to switchel in Whole Foods today, shelved along with the kombucha (apparently relegalized?) and some nifty iced mocha thing that I bought.
posted by maryr at 8:08 PM on June 9, 2011


maryr - I was thinking of Somerville, specifically the "last old school Star Market", the one just down Beacon from Porter Square. But let me know if Market Basket has it. Does Johnnie's Foodmaster still exist?
posted by benito.strauss at 8:34 PM on June 9, 2011


Oh yes. The one in Inman is partially carpeted, of all things for a grocery store to be.
posted by maryr at 8:42 PM on June 9, 2011


Are there any Hannaford's stores as far east as Boston? The ones out in north-central Mass all carry Moxie in cans and 1-liter bottles.
posted by usonian at 10:03 AM on June 10, 2011


Are there any Hannaford's stores as far east as Boston?

Quincy, Waltham, and Saugus, according to their web site. It's like they're scared to go much past 128.

We're also under-served by Dairy Queens in the city, which may be for the best.

But a quick check of DQ's website says there is one in the Longwood Galleria in Brookline. I feel an Oreo Blizzard shame-spiral coming on!
posted by benito.strauss at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2011


FWIW, I made a batch of switchel from soma lkzx's posted recipe.

and it is as good as I hoped, although next batch I'm going to use less sugar and slightly more ginger, I think.

I also think it would go great as a shandy, mixed with a wheat beer like hoegaarden. Definitely going to have to try that.
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:19 AM on June 13, 2011


FYI, I have confirmed that Market Basket on Somerville Ave carries both regular and diet Moxie in one liter bottles and six packs of cans.

I can also confirm that it tastes less like "like sewer poison, cut with hate" and more like a dark porter of sarsaparilla.
posted by maryr at 7:14 AM on June 14, 2011


Having tasted Moxie (thanks, maryr), I can say that either it tastes nothing like sewer poison, or else Boston tap water has really acclimatized my tongue to the taste of sewer.

Honestly, if you like the occasional Dr Pepper you'll like Moxie. I'm getting some ice cream today, because it seems like perfect for making a float.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:30 PM on June 14, 2011


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