SIDE from a dash through the lawn sprinkler, perhaps nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than a cold beverage. For many, the current cooler of choice is a juice drink - not from frozen concentrate, but straight from the fruit - or vegetable - itself.
With the recent trend in "juicing," many people are enjoying refreshing all-natural juice in their homes. The "juice movement" seems to have moved from juice bars in markets and health clubs into homes, although people have been concocting juice drinks for a long time.
"I know people who have had juicers for 20 years," says Carol Gelles, author of "101 Ways to Juice It! (HarperCollins, $12.50)."
But the availability of a wide variety of juice extractors has made juicing much easier. For between $40-$300, machines like centrifugal juicers, reamers, or hydraulic presses will squeeze a fresh glass of frothy fruit or vegetable juice. Extractors at the higher end of the price range tend to be industrial strength, industrial-size juicers (producing a full pitcher rather than a glass).
Ms. Gelles says that although many people try juicing for a healthier lifestyle, most stay with it because it tastes good - a vastly different flavor than bottled and frozen juices.
"Tomato juice ... is going to taste like tomatoes!" Gelles says. The look is different, too: tomato juice is actually pink, not reddish-orange.
Summertime is ideal for juice enthusiasts, Gelles says. During the winter, "It can be a very expensive habit when you want to juice a papaya for $3," she says, but a wide variety of fruit and vegetables are available during summer months.
One of Gelles's favorite drinks is a blend of raspberries and honeydew melon, both least expensive and tastiest in the summer. Juicing can still be done in the winter, however, with produce frozen from the summer or citrus fruits, apples, and vegetables, which are still fairly inexpensive. Another favorite is carrot and orange juice, a good cold-weather drink, and also the blend that first piqued Gelles's interest in juicing several years ago.
"If you wouldn't eat it, don't juice it," Gelles recommends, adding that juicing tends to intensify flavors. "If something is a little tart, then it's really tart as a juice."
Choose ripe fruit and vegetables, and avoid juicing starchy or bitter foods, like corn or eggplant, she suggests. Vegetables should be hard (except avocados and tomatoes) and fruit should be soft, but not mushy (except apples). Strong flavors like onion, pepper, or garlic should be used in small amounts. Gelles also says the juice tastes best when the produce has been chilled and is used immediately.
Some of the more exotic juices are fruit and vegetable combinations, like "Mango Tango," a blend of mango, apricot, and carrot. If you're not fond of fresh vegetables, "It's a great way to sneak them in." Gelles says. A neutral flavor like spinach blends well with many fruit juices.
Pairing certain fruits and vegetables requires some forethought. A thick puree (like banana) does well with a thinner juice (such as watermelon or apple). Gelles also suggests combining tart items with sweet, or bitter flavors with neutral or sweet.
Gelles has even come up with uses for the leftover pulp (about 1/2 cup for every six ounces of juice). Frozen vegetable pulp makes great soup broth - "Cream of (Almost) Anything." Fruit pulp can be added to gelatin, bread, or pancake batter. Frozen-fruit cubes can even be added to plain seltzer water for a natural fruit flavor.
Although a blender can be used, an extractor is the ideal method for juicing. A blender produces a much pulpier beverage - often called a "smoothie" - and may require additional liquid to thin it out. An extractor removes most of the pulp and peels and can handle hard produce, like carrots and apples.
* The juice extractor and glasses were supplied courtesy of Williams-Sonoma in Boston.