On a balmy October afternoon, we sat down with Linda Ronstadt in the living room of the old adobe ranch house at the Canelo Project, a picturesque spot near the former town site of Canelo, just a few miles from the border in the hill country south of Sonoita. With gentle breezes wafting through the open windows, Linda reminisced about some of her fondest food memories as a young girl growing up in the borderlands of Arizona and Sonora.
My grandfather was born in Banámichi, one of the many little towns in the Río Sonora valley… they’re like rosary beads. We used to get our cheese—queso cocido—from a little town down there. As a child we’d drive down and stop in Ímuris, and there would be somebody sitting by the side of the road selling cheeses. And they would be the most delicate, perfect little cheeses, about that big around [making a circle with thumb and forefinger], and they’d have some kind of paper that would separate them. They were perfect—and when you would cook them in the beans the cheese would stretch and stretch and stretch. They had this incredible flavor, this exact, little salt/creamy flavor. We ate it every day—it’s just what you ate with your beans.
My father would go out and bag a bunch of white wing doves and we kids would clean them. You’d have to go find them in the bushes and then you’d have to whack their heads off, and pull off all their feathers, and you’d take off their feet with a little meat cleaver, and then you’d reach underneath where the breast bone is, hold it under the water, and you’d open it up like that [gesturing]; you’d have to stick your finger in and get all the guts out and then you’d stick your finger way down and you’d get the heart and the liver out and put that aside because that’s really good.
My dad was a good shot; he didn’t miss. The white wings would fly over—that would be in September when we’d get the doves. And then we’d bag them up and put them in the freezer so that all winter long, we’d get up in the morning and my mom would fix refried beans with those cheeses, and there would be tortillas—we had a girl who lived in our house and she made those fresh tortillas every morning. And they were made out of that really good wheat that we used to be able to have here, the Sonoran wheat; it stretches just right. She’d make them with lard, which was freshly rendered; the commercial lard you buy today tastes like pig bristle and it tastes horrible. She’d make them with that freshly rendered lard so they’d be layered and they had a stretch to them and a kind of a snap, like good pie pastry. They were just delicious! She’d make a couple dozen of those in the morning.
So a typical breakfast for us would be three of those white wing doves that my dad would fry up in a pan with bacon with the giblets there, you know—we liked the heart, we thought that was the best. Maybe there’d be some scrambled eggs, and some beans and some tortillas and a glass of juice… and it was just the best breakfast you ever had!
My cousin would had have brought some coffee up from the farms. My family had coffee farms in El Salvador and Guatemala. He’d bring up a gunnysack full of those green beans and my dad would roast them on the stove in a wok; he’d stir them and stir them for about a half an hour and we’d grind them up. That was good coffee. That’s probably why I don’t like other people’s coffee! ✜
Linda Ronstadt, a native Tucsonan, has just published Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir (Simon & Schuster), chronicling her 45-year career as one of the country’s most treasured musical artists.