Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Psalm 19: 7-10
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
“This is my favorite thing, is like, when someone takes a recipe that works, and then changes everything about it.” This is what chef, teacher, and author Samin Nosrat said to her dear friend and “Homecooking” podcast co-host, Hrishikesh Hirway. “This is my favorite thing, is like, when someone takes a recipe that works, and then changes everything about it.” The recipe they were talking about was Hrishi’s mom’s beloved mango pie recipe. Hirway, who is a producer of several podcasts and a musician by trade, is also an avid home cook. The mango pie recipe is one of their family favorites.
Hrishi’s family immigrated to the United States from Western India. And, like many families, incorporated their favorite ingredients into foods and celebrations in their new home. The mango pie was Hrishi’s mom, Kanta Hirway's, answer to a pumpkin pie. Hrishi speaks of this pie with such reverence: “It was, and still is, the best dessert I’ve ever had.” The recipe includes a graham cracker crust with a little cardamom in it, and a mango custard made with whipped cream, cream cheese, and mango puree, specifically, Alphonso mango puree. The Alphonso mango is a particularly delicious mango. Hrishi argues that his mom’s recipe is superior to all other mango pie recipes because she only used this kind of mango.
So, what’s this business about changing a recipe that works? Hirway’s mother died in 2020 after being ill for many years. With the pandemic, they were not able to gather for her funeral the same way that they usually would. She died just before Thanksgiving, too, and the family just was not up for making the pie without her. But, in 2021, Hrishi and his wife found a way to more safely gather friends for Thanksgiving. He decided to make mango pie. He also decided to try to make it vegan.
I don’t know how many of you have tried to make food that usually uses dairy fat with vegetable fat instead. While there are many vegan recipes that work really well, Hrishi’s first attempt at a vegan mango pie... did not. You might have guessed that when you heard that Samin had commented, in great jest, that she thinks it’s great when people take a good recipe and change everything about it. She knew that the custard part of the pie hadn’t worked at all. In the episode of their podcast, Hrishi shared how the pie filling just hadn’t set at all. It ended up with a consistency more like melted ice cream. It was still delicious... just not exactly pie.
Not one to be daunted by a recipe that didn’t quite work out the first time, Hrishi decided that if the pie that didn’t set kind of remind him of melted ice cream, then maybe his alterations to his mom’s recipe might actually make good ice cream. He started working with an ice cream company called Salt and Straw to create an ice cream inspired by his mom’s recipe. While I have not had the ice cream because 1) I just learned about it, 2) it is not a company that sells much here, and 3) I am allergic to mango, it sounds delicious. They tried to follow her recipe closely, blending mango puree with cream cheese and whipped cream to create a custard like her pie filling. They then swirled something called a caramelized mawa ice cream with the mango custard. I learned from the Salt and Straw website that wawa is a dried evaporated milk often used in Indian sweets. And, lastly, they put crumbled and salted graham cracker dust on the whole thing. This whole thing sounds wonderful and Hrishi was so proud to be able to share his mom’s recipe with the world in one more way.
As I was thinking about today’s scripture, which speaks of the beauty of God’s wisdom, I thought of this story from the Homecooking podcast. I think it takes a lot of wisdom to make something good come out of a failure. It takes a lot of wisdom to be able to look at a result that didn’t turn out the way you expected, and still find the things that did work and are worth building on. Just because the new thing doesn’t work right the first time, doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. Sometimes the thing you’re trying to do doesn’t work the way you want, at least not the first time.
Even Mrs. Hirway’s original recipe came from her tinkering with other mango pie recipes developed by other Indian immigrant cooks, trying to combine the food traditions of their home culture with the food ways of their new home. It sounds like she perfected her recipe through experimentation, only really loving it when she realized that Alphonso mangos, being so delicious, would make a richer pie. It also sounds to me like she helped teach her son how to keep trying new things until you find the most delicious version possible, even if what you make along the way isn’t perfect. While the Psalm says that God’s teachings are perfect, we aren’t God. Our attempts to live out the Wisdom passed on to us will inevitably be imperfect. But, we must remember that you can build on the imperfect. You can’t do anything with the “never tried.”
In Rolf Jacobsen’s commentary on the text, the portion of the Psalm we heard today is described as a teaching who God is and what God wants for our lives. In this scripture, and others, God’s teachings and wisdom wrought from those teachings are the place where we learn what God hopes for our lives. God’s wisdom is to be cherished and pursued. It is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey... maybe even sweeter than mango puree. Wisdom, gleaned from the law, is God’s gift to God’s people, as a parent offers a child rich food to help them grow strong. Or, maybe even more like a parent who teaches her child to build on, play with, make good use of the wisdom she is teaching him.
In their conversation on the podcast, Samin described what happened with Hrishi’s recipe experiment as “Pie failure, but ice cream success.” My hope for this week is that you pursue the wisdom shared with us with the fervor of a kid eating their favorite dessert or a home cook trying to find new ways to share his culture and his family story with friends. And, I hope that even if your attempts to bring this wisdom to life aren’t perfect the first time, you find your own ice cream success as you keep trying to make the recipe anew, even if you have to ask some friends to help you tweak the new recipe you’ve created.
I will finish with these words Hrishi shared about his mom in another article about the ice cream: “My mom, like so many moms, gave me a sense of who I am through food. She brought joy into my life and other people's lives through her cooking. And I'll always be thankful for that.” May we all be so blessed.
Resources consulted while preparing this sermon:
The Homecooking podcast where Hrishi Hirway and Samin Nosrat talk about the mango pie experiment: https://homecooking.show/episodes/17
The Mango Pie recipe: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1019974-mango-pie
The article about the Mango Pie: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/06/magazine/mango-pie-indian-american-recipe.html
Another good article by Hrishi about the pie and about the ice cream that was inspired by it: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/giving-thanks-through-the-joy-of-mango-pie/
A description of the ice cream https://saltandstraw.com/blogs/news/thanksgiving-traditions-told-through-ice-cream?_pos=1&_sid=92fe9343b&_ss=r
Rolf Jacobsen: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26-2/commentary-on-psalm-197-14
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.