grandma estelle’s cornbread dressing

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.

grandma markham

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 estelle's cornbread dressing | the merry gourmet

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.

cornbread dressing | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8-10.

Cook Time: 60 minutes

Grandma Estelle's Cornbread Dressing

This recipe has graced our Thanksgiving table for years, and when you try it, you'll understand why.

Cook's Notes:
-- 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.

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30 Responses to “ushering in the christmas spirit: fruit cake cookies”

  1. Barbara @ Vino Luci Style — November 28, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

    I have to admit I was skeptical when I saw your photo earlier today…but you’ve been redeemed by using candied cherries and pineapple! I can not stand those green, red and yellow things in a lot of holiday fruitcakes so I’m with you there; although I do love a fruitcake I make but it’s all nuts, cherries and dates and not a citrus looking/sounding hard mass in site!

    These are beautiful…and I think I have to make!

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  3. Paula — November 28, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

    Now this is a fruitcake I can really sink my teeth into! They look wonderful and are so colourful.

  4. Liz the Chef — November 28, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    Wonderful! I am in the midst of re-writing and re-testing the fruitcake recipe my Mom and I used to make. I love having notes like “Try dates in 2007”. Poor Mama, gone over that TG – time for her daughter to bake again… best, Liz

  5. Tes — November 29, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    So Beautiful!! your fruit cake cookies look so beautiful! They’re colorful and delicious 🙂

  6. New York Girl — November 29, 2010 @ 6:28 am

    I am a gal who loves fruit cake… fruitcake, when done traditionally is just lush and delicious… why it has that awful stigma stuck to it… I don’t know why…??? But this looks just absolutely beautiful…

  7. Cookie — November 29, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    I’m definitely not a fan of Fruitcake but wanna give these cookies a try cuz they look so pretty and festive!

  8. Jason Phelps — November 29, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

    When I first read the title I thought “never made fruit cake, hmmm” and then I saw the cookies and realized I had made those before. I enjoy the dried fruits both ways, but more so in the cookie. Sweet treats this time of year are a menace!


  9. Abbie — November 29, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    Those are so festive! Thanks for joining the virtual cookie swap! I’ve got a link to this post in my side bar and it’ll stay there til after Christmas 🙂 Please come check out the other recipes as they come in!

  10. Belinda — November 29, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

    Our grandma had some great recipes, didn’t she? Those cookies will always remind me of her! 🙂

  11. Brian @ A Thought For Food — November 29, 2010 @ 10:38 pm

    Fruit cake cookies!?!?! Sounds like my kind of cookie! 😉 In all seriousness, these look incredible and festive and they’d make PERFECT holiday gifts! Beautiful!

  12. Nancy@acommunaltable — November 29, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

    Have to admit I do like fruitcake… but only the ones made by Collins Street Bakery! These cookies incorporate the best parts of the fruitcake so I will definitely have to try making these!!

  13. Jenny — November 30, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    These are beautiful cookies – I think I must make them!

  14. Joy — November 30, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    That is a great idea for a cookie. I never really liked fruit cake but this I am loving this recipe.


  16. Stephanie — December 8, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Hi there!

    So glad I found this recipe via Serious Eats! I plan to make these yummy looking cookies today… but I wanted to say that your candied fruit looks seriously delicious! I had a hard time finding candied fruit that were whole… they were all chopped!!! Hope they still turn out as beautiful as yours though!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — December 8th, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

      Stephanie – Good luck with the cookies! Let me know how they turn out for you. 🙂

  17. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — December 8, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    I have to laugh because every year my grandmother makes fruitcake cookies and puts them in our cookie tin and tries to trick me into eating them. I’m not a fan.

    Granted, hers look nothing like yours… After looking at your recipe, I think I may have found fruitcake cookies that I would be willing to eat. No trickery required!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — December 8th, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

      Jen – These cookies are wonderful because they really are nothing like true fruitcake. In fact, I should probably rename them to get rid of the stigma!

  18. Liren — December 15, 2010 @ 3:26 am

    I secretly like fruitcake, so I KNOW I’ll love these 🙂 I must make this sometime this week!

  19. Leann — December 19, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

    I have been looking for a recipe for these!!! I had one years ago but could not find it. I made them for friends and family and they were a BIG hit.

  20. Sam — December 20, 2010 @ 9:26 am

    These look just like the cookies I wanted to make. But the powdered sugar is right? Really? Like confectioners sugar? Just wondering…I saw Ina Garten make these and she used half brown half granulated white…what is the difference? A lighter cookie? help!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — December 20th, 2010 @ 10:24 am

      Sam – Yes, powdered sugar is correct. I’ve never used another sugar, so I can’t tell you what the difference would be. I would guess that if you substituted white granulated sugar that the texture might be a little different. Brown sugar might give a little different taste, as well. If you make it with either of those sugars, let me know what you think.

  21. Teresa — January 22, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    I baked this cookies this year based on how beautiful they looked. I was not dissapointed. Yummy!!! They were a gorgeous addition to my cookie tray.! Thanks!!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 23rd, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

      I’m so glad, Teresa! Thanks for the feedback. I love hearing how things turn out.

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  23. sweetsugarbelle — June 8, 2011 @ 6:41 am

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!

  24. sweetsugarbelle — June 8, 2011 @ 6:43 am

    Glad to have found you!

  25. Matilde Bird — December 6, 2016 @ 4:14 pm

    I made these cookies last year and everybody loved them. I’m making dough again this week and will freeze until ready to bake next week. I hope dough won’t dry out.

  26. Lori Mcbride — December 20, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

    I’m just getting started ~I’m so excited to make these?Wish me Luck??‍???

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