Food is not for our pleasure alone, but for our good and lasting health. Not purely for the smell of sizzling garlic and butter, or for the touch of a crumb of flaky pastry on moist lips. Neither, apparently, is eating purely for the comforting, velvety feel of warm food in the mouth, or for the quiet satisfaction of twiddling with the stem of your wine glass after a long supper. Food is for our good and lasting health. There, I have said it again. I am not sure whether I have lost the plot or have finally wised up.
A whirring, purring, bells-and-whistles electric vegetable juicer sits uncomfortably on a kitchen counter next to a cookie jar. It also provides a challenge - a defining food moment - when you decide whether to scrub half a dozen carrots and four apples or simply to lift the lid on the custard creams.
I have been keeping quiet about my juicer, not wanting to be tarred with the narcissistic, 'healthier than thou' image of he-who-juices. 'Food as pleasure' has always been this boy's mantra. How am I suddenly to explain away the chrome-and-white Waring juicer (£239, and yes, I paid full price) that has been part of my kitchen for almost six months now.
Beautiful as it is, I still can't quite bring myself to accept I have bought a machine whose purpose is to reduce a basket of luscious fruit and crunchy vegetables into a liquid form of a multivitamin pill. Sitting there, smugly reminding me that I have finally given in to those who tell us there is more to food than having fun. And believe me, there is no fun in cleaning an electric juicer, even one like mine with disposable paper filters that remove 90 per cent of the hassle. The cheaper extractors are even more of a pain in the sink.
I half hoped this American-built, state-of-the-art centrifugal processor might go the way of all expensive toys: I would go at it like a man possessed, then, once the novelty had worn off, it would sit around embarrassing me for months before I finally admitted defeat and hid it at the back of the cupboard.
No such luck. The thing is a joy. It has been used virtually every day since I splashed out on it, for carrot and grapefruit, celery and apple. It has mashed spinach, watercress, pomegranate and mandarin. It has pulped cucumber and fennel, and tomato and carrot. It has even minced a peeled lemon. (Now there's a wake-up call.)
I have developed the missionary zeal of the recently converted. The evangelism of the born-again non-smoker has nothing on me and my juicer. If your bell rings on a Sunday morning it may well be me: 'Have you ever thought about letting juice into your life?'
Juice makes you feel good. It is a gone-in-a-minute glass of vital, power-packed liquid that will make you feel 20 years younger. That much I promise you. The vitamin content of juice is quickly assimilated by the body, which is no doubt why I feel so damned good after a glass of carrot and orange juice first thing in the morning. The beneficial effect of crushed berries or vegetables is felt within minutes. Just as quick as the pick-me-up effect of an espresso. Not, I hasten to add, that all the juice in the world would ever get me to give up my minute cup of frothy black rocket fuel.
But there have been some spectacular mistakes. It never occurred to me that watercress would be twice as bitter once it lost its fibre. It took me hours to get my taste buds back. The same with pomegranates. The first sip is pleasing, so you tip it back with gusto and find your mouth goes numb. An old-fashioned citrus press is best for such difficult fruits, where the sweet nuggets are entwined with a sour membrane. My experience with neat beetroot juice in quantity should probably be filed under 'too much information', but I shall simply warn you that your last gulp of juice will not be the last time you see its stunning magenta colour.
Some fruits and vegetables work better than others. Oranges and watermelon must be peeled, which is a drag, but apples and pears don't. You get masses of juice from a kiwi, but it is thin and somehow pointless, yet peeled pink grapefruits produce vast quantities of life-enhancing pinky yellow nectar. You will get little from a head of broccoli, despite the fact it may well cure every disease known to man, though cucumber is deeply refreshing with ice and mint. A huge, thorny pineapple doesn't go far, but what little juice you get is so glorious it doesn't seem to matter that you have just spent £2.35 on a shot of syrup.
While the yellow and orange juices rush down without touching the sides, the dark green juices are more of a challenge. Anything with watercress, kale or broccoli in it will fizz in its glass like something from the Addams Family Cookbook. Green froth is an acquired taste. I will, finally, accept that food is about more than just having a good time, but I must be allowed to draw the line somewhere. And believe me, that line ends with a glass of fluorescent green froth.
Celery, apple and watercress
Sometimes I want to start the day with a juice that is mild and slightly sweet. The sweetness will depend on the variety of apples - Cox's, Gala and Spartan are particularly so. Add as much watercress as you like, but I find half a bunch is enough; more than that, and the drink will be too bitter and the colour slightly sinister. Makes 2 medium-sized glasses of pale, sweet juice - but it is an easy-drinking juice, so one could happily get through the lot.
2 large stalks celery
about 6 bushy stems of watercress
3 medium-sized sweet apples
Wash the celery in cold water and trim the cut ends. Rinse the apples and twist off their stalks, but don't bother to peel or core, simply cut each fruit into wedges small enough to fit into the juicer. Wash the watercress in cold running water, scrupulously discarding any tired leaves (even one yellow leaf will taint your juice). Shove the celery, apple and watercress through the juicer, pushing the soft leaves through with the crisp stalks of the celery.
Carrot and pink grapefruit
I know, two squeezers - hand and electric - to clean, but this is one of the most invigorating juices of all time and is worth the washing up. The naughty tartness of the grapefruit cuts the sweet earthiness of the carrots like a knife, and the colour is stunning, like a blazing Greek sunset. A quintessential morning juice. Makes 2 medium-sized glasses.
5 medium carrots
2 pink grapefruit
Scrub the carrots and cut off their green tops. Slice the grapefruit in half and squeeze them using a juice press. (Or push them, peeled, through the juicer.) Pour the juice into a large glass and place it under the juice processor spout. Ease the carrots through, allowing the carrot juice to fall into the grapefruit, which will prevent the carrot juice discolouring.
Pineapple, orange and mint
It is hard, looking at your glowing, amber-skinned pineapple, to imagine that it will end up as a meagre glass of juice. But this is one of the loveliest of juices and makes me feel about 16 again. Although pineapples are, relatively, cheaper than they used to be, this is an extravagant juice, one for a Sunday morning. Makes 2 medium-sized glasses.
1 large ripe pineapple
2 medium-sized oranges
6 mint leaves
Peel the pineapple and cut the flesh into chunks, just small enough to slide down the juicer's funnel, then peel the oranges. I find this easiest with a small serrated knife. Toss the oranges, pineapple and mint leaves together and push through the juicer. The way to get the most juice from your pineapple is to let the machine continue for some time after all the fruit has been pushed through, till every drop has been squeezed into your glass.
Carrot, watercress and cabbage
Brace yourself. This is not a pretty sight, being a murky mixture of orange and green and slightly frothy. But what you end up with is a gently flavoured juice that is surprisingly creamy and sweet. You can feel the antioxidants positively spurting through your body. Makes 2 small glasses.
5 small- to medium-sized carrots
the leaves from 6 bushy stems of watercress
3 bushy stems of parsley
3 leaves of dark green cabbage or kale
Wash all the ingredients thoroughly. Scrub the carrots, then push them through the machine with the watercress leaves, the parsley and its stalks and the cabbage or kale. Drink immediately.
Pear and blueberry
An elegant juice for when you have a surfeit of pears and have found, as I did last week, cheap blueberries in the supermarket. Makes 2 small glasses.
4 large pears
Remove the stalks from the pears, but neither peel nor core them. Rinse the blueberries, then push all through the juicer. You will end up with what appears to be a disappointing amount of juice of a pale-rose hue, but it will have a most elegant flavour. The sort of juice I would be tempted to put in a lace-etched Moroccan tea glass.