How far is too far to drive for apples and a little peace of mind?

How many apples are too many apples? I ask myself that question every fall when I find myself at Murphy Orchard in Marionville, Mo., surrounded by bushels and pecks and baskets of glistening Galas, Empires, Fujis and Braeburns.

After sampling almost all the varieties with the sweet lady cutting slices near the open garage door, I decided that this year a half bushel of Jonagolds — about 20 pounds for $18 — would be coming home with me to Austin.

Lots of people buy lots of apples, especially in parts of the country with strong apple-growing traditions, to make applesauce or apple butter. I buy them just to eat in hand. My kids love apple slices morning, noon and night, and they are nature’s perfect on-the-go snack.

A few years ago, we went through a whole bushel of Fujis from Murphy Orchard, a 5,000-tree orchard that opened in 1981 and is the last of a number that used to operate in the area.

Each apple transported me from my house or my cubicle (or my car) to this little town, next to my hometown, that is otherwise known for being the home of a small community of white squirrels. Every year since, I’ve planned fall trips to Missouri, in part to pick up as many apples as I think I and my kids can eat in the month or two they’ll last in the vegetable drawer of my fridge.

Driving 10 hours to buy apples is crazy, of course, so I try to squeeze in some drives through the country roads that extend in all directions to enjoy the fall foliage, the open fields and the freedom of not always feeling 10 minutes behind as I sit in traffic on South First Street.

If anything, this fall trip — in the middle of all the madness that seems to pop up this time of year, even when there is not a wild election — makes me feel less crazy.

As we head into one of the most wonderful food seasons of the year, I wanted to share three family recipes that we enjoy during this time. This apple crisp recipe is a new one that my grandma wasn’t so sure about when we first tried it during my visit earlier this month. It’s a rich crisp with lots of cinnamon and two layers of the oat topping, but I couldn’t stop sneaking bites even after dessert was over. On my last morning there, I enjoyed a cold scoop of it on top of some Greek yogurt and called it breakfast.

The soup isn’t at all a health food, unless you can quantify comfort and its positive affect on your well-being, and the same can be said of the pumpkin pie cake. We eat that around Thanksgiving, but many of you might prefer it at a Halloween party or fall potluck.

Double Layer Apple Crisp

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup melted butter

3 cups apples

1/2 cup white sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour and oats. Mix in the melted butter and set aside. In another bowl, combine the apples, sugar and cinnamon.

In a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan, spread half of the oats, sugar and butter mixture. Pour the apple mixture on top and spread to the edges. Top with remaining crisp mixture. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature. Serves 8.

— Adapted from a recipe on

Baked Potato Soup

This is a good soup for those cold, snowy days in January. Since some folks don’t know what that is, you should have a designated day to stay at home and pretend it’s too snowy or icy to go anywhere. Turn on your favorite movie, bundle up and enjoy this delicious soup!

— Sis Ann Broyles

6 large potatoes

1/2 stick butter

1/2 cup flour

6 cups milk (if using whole milk, cut some of this quantity with water)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1/2 package bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 1/2 cups grated cheese

1 cup sour cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

Bake the potatoes, cool and cut into cubes. (You can do this ahead of time.) Melt butter and add flour. Add 1 cup of milk to the flour and butter mixture. Whisk well. In a large pot over medium heat, add the rest of the milk. As the milk warms, add the milk and flour mixture, then add potatoes, green onions and bacon. Heat to almost a simmer and then reduce heat to low. Add cheese and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and serve when cheese has melted. Serves 10.

— Carolyn Cook

Pumpkin Pie Cake

I love this cake! It satisfies the need for a traditional pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving, yet it is better than pumpkin pie. It is good with whipped cream, too. Our family usually grazes over this until it is gone. It doesn’t last long!

— Sis Ann Broyles

4 eggs

2 (15-oz.) cans pumpkin

1 (14 oz.) can evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 package yellow cake mix

1 cup butter, melted

1 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and then add pumpkin, milk, sugar and spices.

Pour in a 9-inch-by-13-inch ungreased baking dish or two 8-inch-by-8-inch pans. Sprinkle dry cake mix on top. Drizzle melted butter over top and then sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 45-50 minutes. (Lower heat to 325 degrees if using glass.) Serves 10.

— Louise Wagner

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