How Linda Ronstadt Is Revisiting Her Past Through Cooking
Most of Linda Ronstadt's life revolved around music.
Ever since her debut album, Hand Sown ... Home Grown, was released in 1969, she's been on the musical move, rising to the top level of an industry in an era that didn't always take kindly to women doing so. She released 24 albums, won 11 Grammy Awards and was one of five recipients at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime artistic achievements. It was never about the glitz and glamor for Ronstadt, though. "I didn't think about it in terms of being on the stage," she said to The Washington Post in 2019. "I just thought about singing."
In 2013, Ronstadt was forced to confront a future of not singing when she was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative disease similar to Parkinson's. It has since left Ronstadt unable to sing.
But that doesn't mean she no longer has a voice. Ronstadt has instead turned to family and food as a way of revisiting her roots. As a child, her family of Mexican-European descent would host large, all-day picnics near their home in Tucson.
"That was one of my favorite things to do. Somebody finds a good site on somebody's ranch or out in the country somewhere. And you make a mesquite fire and put a grill on it," she recently recalled to NPR. "And there's conversation that goes on and — cracks about the food. And then somebody gets out a guitar. And you start playing a little bit. Pretty soon, they're singing a song we know, and everybody starts to harmonize. And it's not a performance. It's not like being onstage. It's just being there in the room or ... under the trees with good food and good friends."
Despite being the granddaughter of the man who invented the electric stove, Ronstadt has never been much of a cook. When the idea for a cookbook came about, Ronstadt's children joked that it wouldn't be a very long book. "It will have four pages: P, B, and J," Ronstadt's daughter Mary Clementine told The New York Times. Simple sandwiches were a staple of life on the road for Ronstadt; she still sometimes gets texts from Neil Young, whom she opened for in the '70s, with two words: peanut butter.
Ronstadt's latest book, Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands is not a cookbook per se but more of a memoir with 20 recipes folded in. Mostly it includes dishes Ronstadt recalled from her upbringing in Tucson, recipes with a Sonoran style. (In the 1840s, Ronstadt's great-grandfather immigrated from Hanover, Germany, to Sonora, Mexico, where he married Ronstadt's great-grandmother. They later moved to the Southwest portion of the U.S., eventually settling in Tucson.) Ronstadt's book includes recipes for caldo de queso, Sonoran enchiladas and tortillas de agua. "They mean home," Ronstadt told The New York Times.
At first, Feels Like Home was intended to be a collaborative project with Ronstadt's friend CC Goldwater, the granddaughter of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, who had a famous chili recipe. A prominent local Arizonan couple, Bill and Athena Steen, was invited into the project, too, but it eventually became too complicated and Ronstadt's life (and recipes) instead became the focus of the book. Ronstadt co-wrote with Lawrence Downes, an editorial board member of The New York Times. He described the book as "a road trip with Linda Ronstadt through the part of the world where she is from and loves the most."
Ronstadt is now based in San Francisco, though she still occasionally visits Mexico, eager to reconnect with the culture and energy she grew up around. It's a trip she remembers fondly from her childhood. As a young girl, she and her family would sometimes cross over just for lunch. In 2022, she offered some advice on borders, near and far: "Get to know your neighbors. You might be surprised at how much you like them."