Hello, Summer

The Summer Elixir My Sister Drinks on the Hottest of Days

July  2, 2018

For two summers in a row now, my younger sister has come to visit me in New York City. She arrives at my apartment, tanned, in dusty work boots and always, always, some kind of frayed denim. We hug and kiss, and almost immediately she’s pulling from her backpack: firm, jubilant green beans; tight and waxy oblong tomatoes; small perky peaches that fit in our palms. I reach greedily for everything she hands me, already slathering mayonnaise on toast and slicing the tomatoes. They leak across my countertop.

It’s become tacit tradition that in the place of souvenirs, my sister delivers to me fresh produce from the farms she works on. In the fall, she saves space in her suitcase for a butternut squash, sweet as maple. And in the summer, her backpack bulges with tender summer treats. Her luggage is heavy at first, yet she always returns to her home with a much lighter load, a gourd-shaped silhouette in her clothes where produce once lay.

Summer Lovin'

Our personalities don’t clash—quite the opposite, actually—but our ideas of a perfect environment most definitely do. Where I find promise in the hum of a crowded New York sidewalk, she finds anxiety. She winces at the exhaust from a tailpipe as we careen around Brooklyn on bikes.

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I learn a lot from my sister who, three years ago, eschewed any whisper of a city life and made her way to a farm in North Carolina where she tends to pigs and chickens and knobby-kneed lambs. I now know what the process of giving birth to a calf looks like or can vaguely understand the tectonic hum of a tractor marching through a field of dry wheat.

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Top Comment:
“My neighbor drinks a glass of spring water each day with a dash of apple cider vinegar and honey or maple syrup added and credits that for his health and energy at age 78. Years ago Dr. Wm Jarvis wrote a useful book called 'Vermont Folk Medicine' extolling the virtues of honey, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar in dealing with common ailments. Medicine that sure goes down easy. ”
— Wayne M.

A farmer’s schedule is decidedly different from that of a food site staff writer who commutes into Manhattan on a stuffy subway car. Her afternoons are spent sitting in the shade of a tree waiting out the sun’s harshest hours, while I spend mine deflecting the oily waves of heat that emanate off the concrete.

Each time she comes, she’s surprised by the city’s heat. We grew up in Texas, yet a heat compounded by exhaust―minus any trace of sky for it to dissipate into―is alien for us. It suffocates her. As we trudge across Brooklyn, our socks heavy with what seems like sand, she pulls out her water bottle. “Here, taste this,” she offers.

I’m thirsty, so I concede. And I love water, so I take a big gulp. But what I taste, it isn’t water. At least, not by itself. It’s sharp and tangy and a little sweet, and tastes like a sports drink but doesn’t numb your taste buds with sugar. It’s good—I think—but it’s not water.

“Huh?!” I eke out. “What is this?”

“Switchel,” she counters.

“Sw-what?!” Now I’m confused. What weird concoction is she feeding me?

“It’s switchel. We drink it on the farm. It helps beat the heat, it’s more exciting than water, and it’s refreshing. Chill.” She’s three years younger than me, but really has never had a problem telling me to chill. “It’s water with a splash of apple cider vinegar and some maple syrup. It’s like farmers' Gatorade.” I’m hooked. I spend the rest of the afternoon draining her water bottle and it actually keeps me quite at ease. I like this stuff, I think; I could get used to it.

Plus, the drink's surrounded by all sort of talk touting its benefits. Some claim that the drink can help restore electrolytes, or that the apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg's brand) aids the absorption of water. Every time I have a sip, I feel a bit of a boost in my energy—a tiny acidic shock to my system.

A few days later, she leaves again. Back to the farm, back to long hours, back to the cool Carolina breeze. We part ways with a hug and I send her off in a taxi as she speeds to the airport, leaving me to toil in the cement oven we call a city. I go back into my apartment and fill a tall glass with cold water, a drop or two of apple cider vinegar, and a spoonful of honey (the only sweetener I’ve got), and suddenly I feel a lot more chill.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nicole Otis
    Nicole Otis
  • Wayne Meginnes
    Wayne Meginnes
  • Linda Cassara Green
    Linda Cassara Green
  • Rick Gray
    Rick Gray
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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Nicole O. July 13, 2018
I grabbed some ginger at the store yesterday and made two quart jars of this. I'm already hooked!! I may want to try it in seltzer next time.
Wayne M. July 8, 2018
Apple cider vinegar and switchel are both tried and true Vermont mainstays still used today. My neighbor drinks a glass of spring water each day with a dash of apple cider vinegar and honey or maple syrup added and credits that for his health and energy at age 78. Years ago Dr. Wm Jarvis wrote a useful book called 'Vermont Folk Medicine' extolling the virtues of honey, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar in dealing with common ailments. Medicine that sure goes down easy.
Linda C. July 8, 2018
I want to try it, but how do you get the honey to dissolve in cool water??
Linda C. July 8, 2018
Sorry, I meant to say "maple syrup."
Halli July 9, 2018
I've actually only made a raw honey version even though I use maple syrup in basically everything else that calls for honey. I usually mix it with the apple cider vinegar in the jar first so that the acid helps it dissolve before adding the water, and it's worked fine with a lot of stirring once the water is added. Maple syrup dissolves fine into room temperature liquids with normal stirring. Can't believe I haven't tried it with maple syrup yet!
Valerio F. July 9, 2018
Yes, maple syrup is definitely the way to go! As for the dissolving question, a vigorous stir does the trick, however, maple will always dissolve easier.
Rick G. July 8, 2018
‘Tis why “shrubs” are so good!
FrugalCat July 5, 2018
Didn't they used to drink this in Little House On the Prairie?
Halli July 9, 2018
I've read that the "ginger water" was actually switchel, but I can't bring myself to give up the "ginger water" as being switchel, even though I'm sure they drank that too and I drink it myself! Somehow I need it to be exactly as I read it ;)
Sarah C. July 4, 2018
Sorry could not fix shameful spelling. White Modena vinigar makes a damn good switchel. Stevia is a good sweetener for it.
Sarah C. July 4, 2018
Trader joe’s Has some excellent write vinegar of Modena thatmahes an excellent switcher.vstevia mixes well with it.
Dina S. July 3, 2018
I make this w fizzy water, add a splash of lemon juice & it’s delicious!!!! 😋
Valerio F. July 3, 2018
Yes, also that!
BerryBaby July 3, 2018
Apple cider vinegar has been used in my family for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used it in everything. My dad would drink it mixed with water everyday. Mom used it in cooking and salads were only dressed with the vinegar, oil, a clove of garlic and a touch of salt.
It’s one item you will always find in my pantry.
Valerio F. July 3, 2018
Jill S. July 31, 2018
You write beautifully, and it was awesome reading your little story!