When you are looking for a refreshing summertime beverage, vinegar is probably not high on your list.
Years ago (think colonial times) that attitude was different. Vinegar-based switchel and shrubs were ‘go-to’ refreshments. So if you think many of today’s popular beverages are too sweet, we have some simple, tart alternatives for you to explore.
While historians don’t agree on the origins of switchel, they do agree most switchel recipes are based around the same four ingredients: water, apple cider vinegar, ginger and a sweetener.
Apple cider vinegar comes in two varieties. One contains the mother, and the other does not.
Obviously, this leads to the next question: “What is ‘the mother’?” The mother is the colony of healthy bacteria and yeast necessary to ferment the vinegar, similar to a Kombucha SCOBY. If a vinegar is labeled “unfiltered and unpasteurized,” it most likely contains ‘the mother’. (The visible cloudy residue you see IS the mother).
Pasteurization kills this healthy bacteria. Then the residue is removed by filtering — making the vinegar more aesthetically pleasing, and resulting in the apple cider vinegar that is sold by the gallon.
Either type of apple cider vinegar will work in switchel. Molasses, traditionally, was included as the sweetener in switchel, but maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar have all been used in recipe variations.
If you’re ready to mix up some switchel for yourself, here is a basic recipe, courtesy of the Farmers Almanac:
Ingredients for 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 to let the ginger flavor infuse the beverage. Then enjoy it iced!
Another Colonial-era beverage are shrubs, sometimes referred to as “drinking vinegars,’ Each spring, as the weather grows warmer, I pull Michael Dietsch’s book, “Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times” off my shelf and try a new recipe. Stocked with over 70 recipes, you are bound to find a flavor combination that appeals to your tastes. He even includes shrub recipes found in the papers of such colonial notables as Benjamin Franklin and Martha Washington.
There are two basic approaches to making shrubs: the cold method and the hot method. Here are the basics of each method, according to the Institute of Culinary Education.
Because the ingredients are not cooked, the cold method will result in a shrub that tastes fresh and light. The syrup will add a more acidic tang.
Combine two parts chopped fruit (your choice) and one part sugar (You can experiment with sweeteners) in a large airtight container. Refrigerate for two days, allowing the fruit to release its juices.
Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing as much liquid from the fruit as possible. Transfer the mixture to a large airtight container and add the vinegar. Refrigerate the syrup for one week before using.
The hot method shortens the prep time, but the resulting shrub flavor is less fruity, due to cooking.
Simply combine all of the ingredients — two parts chopped fruit, one part sweetener and one part vinegar — in a large pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for three minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Strain the solids out. Then refrigerate until cold. It can be used immediately.
While switchel most frequently relies on apple cider vinegar, shrubs can incorporate any variety of vinegar that works with the flavors involved. Some shrub recipes even substitute a form of citrus to provide the acidic edge.
Finally, shrub recipes are recipes for syrups that can be mixed with water, seltzer and/or the adult beverage of your choice. The recipes for switchel, however, do not require mixing with other ingredients.
Summer Cool Down
Take these basic recipes for switchel and shrubs are your starting point and experiment. Too tart? Add a bit more sweetener.
Does it taste too vinegary? Add more fruit.
If you really want to go ‘modern day hippie,’ try agave syrup as the sweetener. You can own the summer with these refreshing beverages. Just add ice!
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