Back in the 1980s we watched The Cosby Show along with everyone else. I still remember the episode where Cliff strode proudly into the kitchen and plopped a massive juice extracting machine down on the counter, going on and on about how he was going to get healthy by drinking wonderful freshly-squeezed vegetable juice. His wife gave him a jaundiced look, then opened a cabinet under the counter and proceeded to pull out gizmo after strange, dusty gizmo, reminding him of what amazing improvements he had claimed each one would bring to their lives. Her name for the cabinet, appropriately enough, was the “appliance graveyard.”
I’ve made most of the contributions to our own appliance graveyard over the years, and both increasing embarrassment and diminishing discretionary funds make me reluctant to add further. But I’ve also been concerned more lately about healthy eating, especially as I hear about friends my own age and the surprising health problems they are experiencing. And it probably doesn’t help that our pastor, Roger Murrell, is an emergency room nurse and all too glad to share horror stories about the effects he sees in people of their bad eating habits. We’ve done a lot to improve our diet in the past few years, and we seem to enjoy life more as a result, so I’m always on the lookout for other things we could do to change things for the better.
Off and on I’d wondered about juicers. On the one hand, it’s a gizmo, and what could be bad about that? On the other hand in years past I wasn’t fond enough of vegetables to be especially excited about drinking their juice, and there was also my lingering bad opinion of health-food faddism. But lately I’ve come to like vegetables a lot more, and to be more open-minded about out-of-the-mainstream views on diet. So I was primed when I read this post on David Gumpert’s weblog. Gumpert has done a lot to take control of his health after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he strikes me as a level-headed guy, so I’m interested in anything he has tried and liked.
I talked it over with Debbie, and we figured we could get enough use out of the machine to make it worth a try. So I ordered one, and as we waited for it I made a big deal with the kids, Cliff Huxtable-style, about all the different weird kinds of juices I was going to be guzzling down, the idea being that if nothing else I would be too embarrassed not to choke down the juice that I made. And I stocked up on a variety of vegetables to try out: carrots, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, celery, cilantro, parsley, bell peppers, lemons, limes, even fennel.
When the machine first arrived, I tried a couple of classic juices. First carrot, of course; we were all amazed at how much juice a carrot produced, and the juice was sweet and mellow, not bitter at all. Next celery, and again the juice had the flavor of the vegetable but without the usual bitterness. Each juice was fine for drinking, not needing to be choked down but not very exciting either.
Next I tried more or less the recipe that Gumpert suggests: a cucumber, a couple of handfuls of spinach, three cloves of garlic, half a small apple, half a lemon, and a good-sized chunk of ginger. That produced a bit more than a pint of juice. I’ve tried it three times so far, substituting lettuce for spinach and celery for cucumber, once tossing in a bit of cilantro. Here’s more or less how the drink looks.
Your mileage may vary, but I have to say that I think this stuff is excellent. I usually make a glass mid-morning, I enjoy it for fifteen or twenty minutes, and at the end I look forward to tomorrow’s glass.
For me, the key is the lemon/ginger base. I love both, especially ginger, and by the third batch I was adding enough ginger to make the drink very hot and spicy. As I drink it, I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory about Heinz Ketchup, namely that it is by far the most popular because it holds in perfect balance the five flavors sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. This drink has many if not all of those flavors, keeping them distinct enough to let you focus on one or the other in turn: the hint of sweetness from the apple, the refreshing sourness of the lemon, the spice of the ginger, plus the vegetabley flavors of the greens. And the garlic!
One place I looked for information about juicing was Dr. Mercola’s website, which is very informative. The good doctor recommends that you stick to greens and avoid the common juicing habit of fruits and sweet root vegetables such as carrots and beets, since he thinks we get far too much glucose in our diet already. This worried me a bit, since I expected that I would be drawn to the sweeter juices and find the more “advanced” juices unpalatable. But building on the lemon/ginger base I think I could add just about anything else, at least in some quantity.
For what it’s worth, the juicer I bought is pretty easy to clean, and that is important. It takes me about five minutes to prepare the vegetables, five minutes to make the juice, and five minutes to rinse and dry the parts of the machine that need cleaning. If it took much more than fifteen minutes to make a glass of juice I would probably get impatient.