Throughout history, we have drawn upon ancient practices to heal ourselves and treat ailments. Recipes passed from generation to generation, adapted and tweaked along the way continue to support us and I find myself instinctively reaching for these when illness comes to our door.Jump to Recipe
One such recipe is fire cider. A potent, bug-busting concoction involving the fermentation of powerful, immune-boosting herbs and fruits in raw apple cider vinegar.
When we first moved to Ireland nearly ten years ago, I was hit by a virus the following winter which continued to plague me for months afterwards. I had zero energy, and would take to my bed for hours during the day unable to move. This is so not cool when you have young children, farm animals, work and home life to manage.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an afternoon in bed, in fact, I am cosied under the duvet writing this whilst it is snowing outside. However, I much prefer it when I can choose the time to take to my bed.
I began searching for ways to give my immune system a much needed kick up the arse and after attending a fascinating fermentation workshop with Dearbhla Reynolds, from the Cultured Club, I embarked on a journey to heal myself by introducing fermented foods and drinks into my daily routine. You can find more of our fermented recipes here and here.
I have to be honest at this point and say that during the past two decades of my life, I have spent more money than I’d like to recall on wellness products, in a vain attempt to remedy the myriad of ways I damaged my body and subsequently my health in my teens and 20s.
My immune system was never that great and I was frequently ill with colds and flus. My family are all too familiar with the sound of me coughing desperately through the night for weeks on end.
When I was ill, I would go into ‘blast it’ mode – taking every vitamin I could get my hands on, eating raw onion, swallowing cloves of garlic, guzzling homemade broth and swearing that I’d never eat sugar again. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with any of this, however, I would have saved myself a lot of agony, money and time if I had incorporated these methods as part of my daily or weekly routine to prevent me getting ill in the first place and support my overall health.
I soon learned that my continuing relationship with fermented delights led me to be so much more resilient and these days, when the seasons change and the bugs are abound, I am ready for them.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has long been used as a tonic for health. Apparently, Hippocrates was a big fan of vinegar and would prescribe it in the 4th century BCE for good health. ACV is made from the process of fermenting apples or apple juice with sugar to make cider, an alcoholic drink. Over time, during as fermentation occurs, the alcohol turns into acetic acid, also known as ‘the mother’ and the liquid becomes vinegar.
The mother is often removed during the pasteurisation process leaving the apple cider vinegar used as a condiment for cooking. However, for the health benefits associated with ACV, you really want to keep the beneficial bacteria that gives ACV it’s long-lasting reputation for boosting the immune system, improving circulation, cleansing skin and supporting digestion. You can find apple cider vinegar with the mother in supermarkets or online – even our local chemist stocks it.
The good news is, that it is also really easy to make your own version (apple scrap vinegar) at home….
Just fill a large kilner-style jar 3/4 full with apple cores, peel and any small pieces of apple. Depending on the size of jar you are using, add the desired amount of filtered water to a jug and dissolve roughly 4 tablespoons of sugar per litre in the water.
Pour the water into the jar just below the rim at the top and add a weight to stop any bits coming up for air. If the apple isn’t fully submerged, mould will form and turn the vinegar bad. I use fermentation weights but a small, glass ramekin pressed down also does the trick.
Adding sugar to the liquid feeds the bacteria already present on the apple and will encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria which is what we want. You can also use honey, but it does ferment slower.
Cover with a clean cloth and secure it with an elastic band. Leave it somewhere out of direct sunlight for at least 2-3 months. You will see that the vinegar will have formed it’s own ‘mother’ and it will smell vinegary. There you have it, DIY ACV (though strictly speaking it’s apple vinegar).
To make fire cider, you can be as creative as you please. There are so many variations out there and it’s a good idea to just try different combinations until you figure out your favourite. The ‘fire’ in the name comes from the addition of chilli peppers. If, however, like me, you are a bit of a lightweight where chilli is concerned, I strongly suggest that you err on the side of caution for your first batch.
Some ingredients may be simply unavailable where you live, for example, fresh horseradish is nowhere to be found in our part of Ireland. I did plant some once but it didn’t grow.
So, I will give you my preferred recipe but feel free to pick and mix from any of the ingredients below:
- Fresh ginger
- Fresh turmeric (add peppercorns if using turmeric to increase the body’s ability to absorb curcumin)
- Fresh horseradish
- Chilli pepper
- Rosehips (thank you to my friend Jessica Mason-Little for that one).
Raw honey to sweeten if preferred.
A word of warning if you are using fresh horseradish. It’s pretty potent and many herbalists recommend wearing gloves and goggles when preparing it. The same goes for chilli peppers – we all know what happens when you don’t wear gloves for this one!
Wild Fire Cider
- 4-5 cm fresh ginger (grated or thinly sliced)
- 4-5 cm fresh turmeric (grated or thinly sliced)
- 3 onions (quartered with skins on)
- 1 bulb of garlic separated and crushed
- 3 oranges (sliced)
- 3 lemons (sliced)
- 1/2 – 1 chilli pepper (chopped or thinly sliced)
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 handful fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme)
- 1-2 litres raw apple cider vinegar
- Thoroughly clean a one or two litre jar with a sealable lid.
- Prepare your ingredients by chopping / slicing /grating into small pieces.
- Remove herbs from the stalks and discard the stalks.
- Add all the ingredients to the jar.
- Top up with the apple cider vinegar leaving a space at the top of 2-3cm.
- Weigh down the contents with a fermentation weight or a glass ramekin.
- Seal the lid and store somewhere out of direct sunlight for 3-6 weeks.
- Strain the liquid and add honey if required before bottling.
- Keep in a sealable bottle in the fridge for anywhere up to 18 months or at room temperature for 6-8 months.
The wonderful thing is that after you have strained the ingredients from the liquid, you can make another batch with them. Just clean the jar, add them in, pour in the vinegar and repeat.
I usually take ‘a shot’ (2 tbsp) a day during the winter months and increase this to 2-3 shots a day when I am beginning to feel unwell. I prefer to take it neat but go easy to begin with, it is called Fire Cider for good reason. If you find it is too strong, you could try adding it to a glass of water and gradually increasing the dose. It is wise to start small, particularly if you are relatively new to fermenting.
Glenn likes to take a shot in the morning if there is a cold going around, and says it’s like being slapped in the face whilst being soothed with a snuggly hot water bottle.
As you sample different ferments, you will hopefully discover that your taste buds adapt fairly quickly and you will actually come to enjoy it. I remember thinking that I would never like milk kefir. It’s still not my favourite, but I can happily drink it every morning.
Fire cider is a tonic, it’s not intended to be guzzled by the glassful. It’s a powerful addition to your personal first aid kit and will give you and your family a fighting chance against the usual seasonal onslaught.
I feel that I should mention that adding garlic to an acidic liquid can cause it to turn blue or green as in the photograph above. Whilst this doesn’t look particularly appetising, it is perfectly fine to consume. In fact, in certain areas of China, garlic preserved in vinegar called Laba Garlic is enjoyed on special occasions.
I love how simple and cost effective this recipe is, particularly during challenging times where we have more pressing matters on our mind. Including any combination of the ingredients will be beneficial to your health and your family’s….that is, if you can persuade them to drink it!
Give it a try and let us know if it cleared your sinuses. We bet it will.
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