When it comes to the latest info regarding how I eat and nourish myself, I turn to my friend Ed. A retired math professor who is left-brain focused and loves to geek out on the science around all things health-related, he’s never led me astray. Right before Covid hit last year, I met up with him to do some hot-springs soaking in Ojai, California, and he introduced me to fire cider, which is purported to be a potent immune-system elixir. (FYI: I cannot vouch for that as I am not a doctor, dietician, or ayurvedic practitioner.) Then, when the pandemic hit, I thought, “Perfect time to increase my immune-system IQ!” We had so little information in the early days of Covid but I figured that boosting my immune system couldn’t possibly hurt and doing something seemed way better than doing nothing. Not to mention that I love nothing more than a food project, especially one that involves suspense, so experimenting with fire cider seemed to answer both needs.
Although I have to admit that my experimentation did not get very far, because I fell head over heels in love with the first batch o’ cider I brewed up and have barely tinkered with it since. That said, plenty of tinkering can be done, if you feel so inclined. Making fire cider involves more patience than science—you have to let it ferment for at least three, and up to six, weeks. The basics are quite simple, and you can add or subtract quantities and ingredients to suit your taste buds. Me, I like my brew tart and pungent, so I throw in everything but the kitchen sink and go way easy on the sweetener.
Grand mistress of all things herbal, Rosemary Gladstar has been making this magnificent concoction for so long she can’t remember who first turned her on to it, and, by fiddling with the quantities of a variety of ingredients with digestion-boosting, germ-fighting, and anti-inflammatory properties, eventually made it her own. There are myriad recipes around for fire cider—you can also just straight-out buy it, but how much fun would that be?
The bare-bones recipe calls for garlic, ginger, onion, horseradish, and a dash of cayenne macerated in apple cider vinegar. Here’s a breakdown of what each of those ingredients adds to the potent potion:
apple cider vinegar: said to boost digestion.
horseradish: known to be an awesome weapon against sinus congestion and sinus headaches and a digestion aid.
ginger: warming and wonderful for circulation and digestion; also used to help fight infection.
garlic: antimicrobial and antibacterial.
onions: similar properties to garlic; can also be good for colds and flu.
cayenne pepper: great for cardiovascular health; also said to support the immune system.
You can find Rosemary’s original recipe here, but the recipe I use, and am going to share with you, is adapted from Martha Stewart’s test kitchen. Do taste your tonic before you leave it to brew and adjust ingredients to make it your own. And if you are not a lover of heat, I would definitely go light on the peppers and not add any cayenne until you’ve taste-tested. Just saying!
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
1/2 cup peeled, diced fresh horseradish
1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 jalapeño or serrano chiles, or one of each, depending on your heat tolerance (serranos beat jalapeños on the heat index) halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
Up to ¼ teaspoon cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance)
1/2 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 lemon, cut into about 8 pieces
1/2 orange, cut into about 8 pieces
About 2 cups raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, plus more as needed
1/3 to 1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
• Place ginger, horseradish, garlic, rosemary, chiles, peppercorns, cinnamon, and onion in a one-quart mason jar or spring-top canning jar.
• Add the lemon and orange pieces, pressing them down firmly to release their juices and pack the other ingredients down.
• Add enough vinegar to cover all ingredients by about an inch; taste and add more of anything your taste buds are asking you to.
• Close the jar and let sit in a cool, dark place for three to six weeks. (Note: If you’re using a jar with a metal lid, place a piece of parchment over the lip of the lid so the vinegar doesn’t create a corrosive reaction.)
• You can shake the jar every couple of days or just turn it upside down and let it sit in its new inverted posture every day or so, which is what I do.
• After you’ve decided your brew is ready (do taste along the way!), strain it into a bowl through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the solids.
• Stir in the maple syrup and turmeric, pour into a clean jar, and store in the fridge.
I like to drink about an ounce or two a day, and you can also use the fire cider in place of other vinegar in salad dressing. If you are a virgin fire cider imbiber, you might want to dilute it in some warm water. It’s also nice to add a shot to some sparkling water, for a spritzer. I am told that you can unmock your mocktail by adding a shot to a paloma, but do note that alcohol does the opposite of supporting the immune system. You can also make a virgin paloma by adding a shot o’ brew to grapefruit kombucha, which I do from time to time, although I mostly love my fire cider straight up, no chaser necessary.
Because this tonic takes a few weeks to mature, I generally start my next batch when I’m about half-finished drinking the current one. And I always double up and make twice as much, because, well, I get a lot more bang for just a little bit more work. Fire cider has become my favorite mock or any other kind of cocktail. I hope it becomes yours too. Cheers!