There are some recipes that must always appear at holiday dinners simply because of tradition. Somewhere along the line, my husband’s grandmother’s cornbread dressing showed up at their holiday dinner table, and it was there to stay.
Sam’s grandmother, always known to the entire family as Grandma, was the essential home cook. Grandma prepared one big meal each and every day, and this meal was the dinner meal. And in true Southern tradition, dinner was served around noon. The evening meal, supper, was much lighter fare, typically without much fuss. Supper usually consisted of leftovers, soup, or sandwiches.
As Grandma became older and more frail, my sister-in-law was diligent about compiling and documenting the famous family recipes. You see, Grandma was the type of cook who had been doing it for so long that she didn’t follow recipes. She added a bit of this and a little of that, and the dish always came out just right.
Grandma died in 1993 when she was in her late 80s, but we still have her cornbread dressing at every Thanksgiving meal. For the last several years, I have been making her recipe, following the instructions to a tee.
I’m often tempted to tweak recipes to make them my own, but I just can’t do that with Grandma’s cornbread dressing. Her recipe calls for cornbread mix – but not Jiffy (because it’s too sweet) – and refrigerated biscuit mix. I’ve been tempted to make my own cornbread or bake my own biscuits for the recipe. But I haven’t.
Part of the beauty of this recipe is that, in addition to the flavors of this savory dressing, we also taste memories when we eat it. I don’t want to mess with that.
Grandma Estelle's Cornbread Dressing
Yield: Serves 8-10.
Cook Time: 60 minutes
This recipe has graced our Thanksgiving table for years, and when you try it, you'll understand why.
-- For best results, use Martha White cornbread mix; avoid Jiffy -- it's too sweet.
-- The recipe works even better if the biscuits and cornbread are made at least one day in advance. In fact, I often bake the biscuits and cornbread two days in advance and do the rest of the prep one day in advance, refrigerating the ready-to-bake dressing in a tightly-covered container until the next day.
-- If you can't find a 5.5 ounce can of biscuits, a 7.5 ounce can will do just fine.
2 (6 oz) packages cornbread mix (Martha White brand preferred)
1 (5.5 oz) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup butter
5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade chicken stock)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon sage
1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Prepare cornbread mix and biscuits according to package directions and let cool. Crumble cornbread and biscuits in a large bowl, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter then sauté onion and celery until translucent and tender, stirring frequently.
Add celery and onion, chicken broth (or stock), and remaining ingredients to cornbread and biscuit mixture. Stir well until combined.
Spoon mixture into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until golden brown and set.