Just occasionally a column should be a two-way thing. The small distraction I provide from rage and sorrow every week I provide without expectation of reciprocity. A job's a job. But today I'm the one in need. Help me, somebody. How do you juice? But don't rush to answer until you have fully grasped the question.
I have the necessary equipment. I have more gadgets for juicing than anyone I know who doesn't own a juice factory. Mixers, masticators, macerators, extractors, blenders, squeezers, juicerators, pressers, citrus reamers – you name them, I have them. Loose me into a kitchen shop and I buy a machine for juicing. Perhaps it's the word. Juice. I think I must hear the secret of life itself in it.
Every year at about this time I begin to emerge from a personal winter of extreme catarrhal discontent, and experience a deep longing for juice. It could be atavistic. Long ago in the primeval swamp my ancestors either survived on citrus fruits or were citrus fruits. It can be no accident, anyway, that I live in an area where the only shops that don't sell sex sell health foods. Hot "ginger zingers" to the left of me, "siriguela spicer" to the right, and those are not the names of lingerie or aphrodisiacs. Sensing sunshine and the promise of a new beginning last week I made it to the nearest of these health delis and by pointing – for I am voiceless after a long winter – got them to juice me up some orange, apple, ginger and lime.
Normally you must stipulate precisely what you want – "So is that a wild acai berry sparkadula or an all-night boogie-woogie banana nirvana and water-melon nog?" – or they won't serve you. But in this instance they wanted me out of the shop fast; I am not, after all, a good advertisement for their produce. I drank it in a single swallow and ordered two more, the bill coming to a watermelon pip short of 20 smackers. At that rate, I calculated, I'd be out of my life savings – however worthless – by nightfall. So I did what I always do on exactly the same date every year and that was buy everything I needed to make my own juice – in the process surprise my wife by my initiative.
I don't know how other people retrieve their blenders from the cupboards in which they've been stored all winter, but I do it sideways on and blind, relying on feel rather than visual recognition. I found what I was after eventually but cut my finger on the rotary blade which I am always at pains to remove from the machine itself when I put it away, mindful that the majority of fatalities take place in the kitchen.
Now I am not one to complain of injury – broken nail, grazed knuckle, paper cut: I bear them all with equanimity – but the juice of lime stings a cut finger beyond endurance. The juice of orange ditto.
I am messy with an orange, never having mastered that rococo single-movement peel of which our grandmothers were capable. My way is to squeeze the orange with one hand and then to make lunges at it with the other, not unlike Jack Nicholson hacking at the bathroom door in The Shining. Why I don't simply call that juicing, suck my fingers and have done I cannot explain. I must like the mechanical process more.
By this time, anyway, it was necessary for me to wash the citrus out of my stinging cut and apply plasters to it – one to go round the finger left to right, the second to go over the top and secure the first, and the third to go around the finger right to left to secure the second. How the first plaster got into the blender I am again unable to explain. But in seeking to extract it I accidentally pushed a button named PULSE – a button which until now I'd never seen the purpose of unless you are meant to feel it to check whether you are still alive. In the confusion caused by this sudden throbbing, I failed to secure the lid on the blender, as a consequence of which enough juice for a small kindergarten erupted volcanically, some of it landing on the kitchen ceiling, some of it landing on my wife's cookery books, but most of it landing on me. Except that you couldn't by any stretch of the imagination call this juice. Juice runs. Juice flows. This moved, since we are talking horror films, like The Blob.
These are mere interim questions, but why was this more like soup or purée than juice? Why, though it had two whole witch-twists of ginger in it, didn't it taste remotely of ginger? And whatever it tasted of and looked like, would you, reader, consider it permissible – hygienically, and from a culinary point of view – to soak up the spillage with a sponge, squeeze it back into the blender and serve it to your wife pretending nothing had happened?
All hope of getting anything that could be called a drink out of this having fled, I set about cleaning up. Not only were the jackets of the cookery books covered with a tacky pith, the pages were already glued together. I didn't dare put them in the sink. I couldn't dry them on myself because I was tackier than they were. In the end the only thing I could think of doing was to lick them clean. Which raises another question: Do you tell your wife you've licked her cookery books? And if she asks why, do you explain?
Unable to lay hands on a tea towel (they spoil the look of a kitchen, my wife believes), I took off my shirt – a silky two-tone Brioni slim-fit with blue piping on the inside of the collar; not a shirt to juice in I accept, but I like to work in the kitchen in unsuitable clothes in the same way some men like to bungee-jump in three-piece suits – and mopped the mess up with that. It wasn't inevitable that I should slip on the shirt, but I did. In the act of keeping my balance I pulled over the blender, cracking a tile and damaging three more fingers. The blender itself, of course, is finished – finished in the mechanical and the reputation sense. But that's not the worst of it. After four washes I am still unable to get the bitter-smelling confetti of sticky orange and lime pulp off my Brioni shirt.
So, here is my question: how do you juice?