Down to Earth: Cooking with Basil at an Oregon Truck Stop

I almost slapped myself to see if I had stepped off a starship onto another planet.

| February/March 1997

I was visiting friends in Dundee, Oregon, sometime back. We had just toured a great little winery and tasted some especially nice wines. My host suggested that we go for lunch at a nearby cafe.

“It doesn’t look like much, but the food is always good,” he said as we pulled up in front of a simple concrete-block building not unlike thousands of other roadside cafes across America. It also seemed to be quite popular—trucks crowded the parking lot, and inside, the owner chatted with a few of the truckers, asking about their families or what they were hauling that day.

Several items on the menu enticed me, including basil beef on rice, rosemary roasted chicken, and several delectable-sounding vegetarian entrées. “Truly not your ordinary truck-stop fare,” I said to myself, choosing the rosemary chicken.

During lunch, the truck drivers ­seated at the eight or ten tables in the cafe talked and joked among themselves. When the owner, a woman wearing a white apron and a hairnet, came out to visit a customer, a trucker sitting across the room called out, “Mary, we were just talking. Which basil did you use in the beef today?”

At first, I thought he was joking. After all, this appeared to be just an ordinary cafe, not a tearoom, and the clientele was nearly all truckers. Mary responded, “Oh, it’s that lettuce-leaf basil Sam gave me last year. I like the flavor, and the plants keep on producing leaves all summer.”

Another trucker broke in: “Have you tried using ‘Cinnamon’ basil in the recipe? My wife likes it better than lettuce-leaf.”

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