When we moved to San Francisco this spring, I had a few specific apartment-hunting criteria: good location, outdoor access, gas stove. My boyfriend had only one: a dishwasher. We never had one before, partly because finding a dishwasher is the holy grail of Manhattan apartments, but also because I also insisted they were unnecessary. Doing dishes by hand had a lot of benefits: We never ran out of wine glasses, for one (What? They get used up fast!). More importantly, it meant I never had to face the dreaded chore of my childhood: emptying the dishwasher.
Everyone has that one chore they can’t abide; for Edna St. Vincent Millay, it was berry-picking. Divorced and in debt, Cora Millay shuttled her three daughters between homes of friends and family. To earn their keep, she assigned each of the girls jobs around the house, and posted a weekly schedule of everyone’s tasks on the wall. Though there was no dishwasher to empty, Edna’s list was also kitchen-centric: “cook daily, bake several times weekly, wash clothing for herself and her sisters.”
“Cooking” often involved berry-picking, especially while the girls were staying on their Uncle Fred’s farm in Maine. The acres of blueberry fields were both an ideal place to play and a place to forage. Edna was tasked with picking buckets of them for dinner, often just berries and milk. “The blueberries came in the most perfect condition, not one crushed,” Millay recalled much later, when she had achieved literary success—and bought a 635-acre blueberry farm of her own.
Millay’s farm, Steepletop, must have reminded her of Uncle Fred’s, but now that she was in charge, those chore schedules were history. Her husband, Eugen Jan Boissevain, took care of nearly all the domestic duties—Edna “neither cooked nor shopped nor did housework … When Millay became tired after entertaining a houseful of guests at Steepletop, Boissevain simply picked her up and carried her to bed as if she were a child.” Sounds way more appealing than cleaning up after guests, even with a dishwasher.
But every now and then, Millay would head out to her vegetable garden, or pick a bucket of berries in the fields of the estate. She included some of the Maine specialties she once cooked among her favorite foods: “broiled or boiled Maine lobsters with melted fresh country butter, haddock chowder … and deep dish blueberry pie.” Looking back, childhood, even with the chores, didn’t seem that bad. Writing to a lover, Millay said, “I want to show you the tiny pool we built … & the hut in the blueberry pasture where I wrote The King’s Henchman, I want to sit on the edge of the bed while you have your breakfast—I want to laugh with you, dress up in curtains, by incredibly silly, be incredibly happy, be like children.”
There’s still a blueberry festival every summer in Austerlitz, New York, the closest town to Steepletop, where Millay lived until her death in 1950. The pies haven’t changed much since then either. In The Twentieth Century Book for the Progressive Baker, published in 1919, the recipe for blueberry filling calls for blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and a bit of tapioca starch. Nearly a century later, Maine’s prize-winning pie is made the same way.
This pie is an adaptation of that recipe, but with two updates. The first is the crust, one of my favorites favorite from 101 Cookbooks that swaps out some of the all-purpose flour for a bit of rye, a sour note against the sweet berries. The second is using a food processor to bring that crust together. You can make dough by hand, of course, but why add another chore to your list? Instead, take my advice: use the processor, bake the pie, eat the pie, then find someone to carry you to bed.
Crust (adapted from 101 Cookbooks):
2/3 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cut into small cubes
6 tablespoons cold water
Turbinado sugar or beaten egg if desired
Filling (adapted from Mary Blenk’s Maine Wild-Blueberry Pie):
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups wild blueberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Prepare crust: Combine flours and salt in a food processor for 2 pulses. Add butter and process until dough begins to clump. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together.
2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface and divide into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 5-inch discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour, up to overnight.
3. Remove larger dough disc from the fridge and roll out to a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan and cut overhang to 1 inch.
4. Prepare filling: In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add berries and toss to coat. Pour berries gradually into crust, holding back any leftover flour mixture. Pour the remaining flour mixture over berries, and drizzle with lemon juice.
5. Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove smaller dough disc from fridge and roll out into a 13×10-inch rectangle. Cut into 1-inch strips. Lay one layer of strips 1 inch apart, then weave another layer through, perpendicular to the first layer. Trim overhang to 1 inch and tuck edges under.
6. Brush crust with egg wash or sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired. Bake 45 minutes, until crust is golden and filling is bubbling.