A hot summer day calls for the perfect beverage. Nowadays, we’re quick to grab iconic drinks like Gatorade to replenish our bodies with electrolytes.
However, you might be wondering what they used to drink back in the olden days to stay hydrated in hot weather.
The answer? Hay-makers switchel.
Traditional to Colonial Americans, hay-makers switchel was a well-balanced and refreshing beverage that was loved by all, from workers of the field to politicians.
Let’s look into the history behind this famous drink and how you can make it from scratch!
What Is Hay-Makers Switchel?
Switchel, also referred to as switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, or switchy, is a historical drink that contains water, vinegar, ginger, and a sweetener of your choosing – usually molasses, maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar.
When combined, they make a healthy tonic perfect for hay farmers in need of an electrolyte boost.
The History Behind Hay-Makers Switchel
Hay-makers switchel is said to have originated in the West Indies around the 1600s. However, it didn’t make a name for itself until it made its way north to the American Colonies in the late 17th century.
This homemade brew was a popular summer beverage served to farmers during the hay harvest; hence the name hay-makers switchel. If you’re wondering where the name switchel comes from, it’s not entirely clear. However, it’s believed to come from the Arabic word for “drink.”
Although this drink was primarily consumed in the fields by working-class people, statesmen enjoyed this beverage too. It’s said to have been a favorite among our very own United States Congress.
Many other famous people throughout history enjoyed this beverage, including Laura Ingalls Wilder, who mentioned a switchel drink they consumed while they were out haying in the fields.
She said in her book, The Long Winter, “Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty.”
Ingredients in Hay-Maker Switchel
Haying is hard work, so it’s no surprise that these farmers gravitated toward a drink that was nourishing and quenched their thirst.
Although people of that time probably didn’t understand the specific benefits of the ingredients in what they were drinking (let alone what an electrolyte is!), they managed to make a healthy tonic filled with potassium and immune-boosting ingredients. Perhaps they used the time-honored trial-and-error method of discovery.
The ingredients to the hay-maker punch drink recipe are simple and were common and affordable to their time.
The main ingredient, apple cider vinegar, is an all-natural detox people have been using for centuries. Apple cider vinegar is prized for its ability to energize the body. It’s filled with many antioxidants and can help ward off cramping, maintain blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation – no wonder farmers loved it!
Molasses, which was typically used as the sweetener of choice for this beverage, may seem like an odd ingredient. However, it’s actually excellent for the body and is packed with essential vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Plus, it contains a high amount of potassium, which helps to increase energy and endurance.
Ginger wasn’t just added to this drink to give it a little heat – it was a useful medicinal spice that was added to many recipes of this era. Although they might not have known this at the time, ginger is great for helping reduce muscle pain and soreness, which is exactly what a person needs after a long day of haying.
Mix it all together, and you get “nature’s Gatorade” – just don’t tell the kids how healthy it is, or else they might not go for it!
Hay-Makers Switchel Recipe
This beverage is very easy to make and is naturally gluten-free and vegan. The best part about this recipe for switchel is that you can adjust it to your preferences.
If you’re not a fan of molasses, feel free to use honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, or whatever type of sweetener you prefer. You can even add fruit slices or herbs.
If you’re wondering how hay-makers switchel tastes, it’s a combination of sweet and sour with a bit of kick from the ginger. Think of a tangy glass of lemonade with a gingery bite!
We recommend drinking this on a hot summer’s day served over ice.
You can find this recipe, along with many others from this era, in our American Revolution Time Travelers study. For more information on our Time Travelers, check out our blog post, Using Time Travelers to Teach American History.
1 quart cold water
1 c. brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 c. sugar
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. light molasses
1 tablespoon ground ginger
Mix ingredients together, stirring well to dissolve sugars. Chill before serving.
More Historical Recipes and Resources
Now that you know how to make this refreshing traditional switchel recipe, you can send your kids off to work in the sun-filled fields (we’re only kidding!).
Although, if you’re studying the American Revolution, this is the perfect recipe to include in their curriculum. For more reasons on why you should add recipes to your child’s history lessons, read our blog post, Adding Interest to History with Recipes.