7 Holiday Recipes We Learned From Our Grandmothers And Grandfathers

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

When you think about holiday traditions, there’s no doubt about it — food is very important. Winter is just the perfect season to make comfort foods that the family can’t get enough of.

Any sort of winter weight gain is totally worth it when it can be credited to your grandmother’s scalloped potato recipe. That’s a dish you probably anticipate throughout the whole year.

Food brings us together. There’s also something very special about gathering family members together for a big meal. While many food memories can be tied directly with Thanksgiving — especially in regard to special side dishes — Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are also big ones.

For Kwanzaa, plenty of families eat catfish, creole dishes, chicken, beans and rice, and okra. For Hanukkah, Jewish families often bond over latkes, kugel, and brisket. Also, sufganiyot  — which is a delicious type of jelly donut. You can’t go wrong with Hanukkah desserts.

For Christmas, things can be changed up. Some people celebrate with a meal that almost resembles a Thanksgiving feast, while others opt for ham. Sometimes, families gather together for a big potluck. No matter what, there’s usually some sort of family recipe in the mix.

We asked seven people about their own traditional recipes from their grandmas and grandpas and the stories that surround those foods. While some full recipes weren’t available (or were kept as family secrets — which makes a lot of sense), you’ll feel good to hear why they’re so special.

Great-Grandfather Sam's Eggnog


Ellen F. shared this recipe from her great-grandfather, with a wonderful story attached. “He was the superintendent at a Texaco refinery and would invite all his staff over every year for a big Christmas party,” she said. “This was always served and was apparently quite a hit!  At some point the recipe was transcribed by my great-grandmother, who then passed it down. One of my aunts typed up a photocopy of her original notes. It has shown up at various family holiday gatherings over the years, often in a less-boozy version than the one below. When I made it for Friendsgiving a couple of years ago I used about eight shots of liquor, at which point I decided it tasted strong enough! Any post-party leftovers can be used to make boozy French toast the next day.”

Eggnog — Makes 12 to 15 cups

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • Approx. 1 tbsp. sugar per egg, so about 12 tbsps.
  • Vanilla extract
  • 1 +/- pint whiskey (bourbon or blended) or rum (not dark rum) (Grandaddy used about 50/50 whiskey and rum.)
  • 2 to 3 tbsps. powdered sugar (for egg whites)
  • ½ pint whipping cream
  • 1 quart milk (you won’t use all of this)
  • Nutmeg, grated
  1. Separate eggs.
  2. Work sugar into yolks slowly, 1 spoonful at a time.
  3. Add vanilla, somewhat more than a dash.
  4. Add liquor slowly, a jigger at a time, stirring well (about 12 jiggers total). Set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites. Add 2 to 3 tbsps. powdered sugar while beating whites.
  6. In another bowl, whip the cream.
  7. Stir up yolk mixture and taste for sweetness.
  8. To mask sweetness, add additional jigger(s) of liquor, one at a time.
  9. Pour ¾ quart milk into yolk mixture.
  10. Add egg whites and whipped cream. Fold in gently until you have a uniform mixture.
  11. Serve with sprinkling of nutmeg.

Oyster Dressing

Oyster Dressing

“My grandfather was from New Orleans, and for all of the holidays, they made oyster dressing/stuffing,” shared Jessica F. “I believe his mother, an immigrant from Italy, began it. He passed many years ago, but my dad now makes it for my mom in honor of her dad.”

While the recipe might not be identical, you can try this Traditional New Orleans Oyster Dressing recipe from The Oregonian. Fresh oysters work best.

Potato Candy

Potato Candy

“My grandma always made potato candy at Christmas — 2 tbsps. of mashed potato mixed with an obscene amount of powdered sugar until it’s a dough,” Sunny T. shared. “You roll it out then put in your filling, traditionally peanut butter, and roll it up.”

The recipe can be found on BellyFull. Sunny was right — these are fairly simple. All you need are four ingredients total — a potato, powdered sugar, nut butter, and vanilla extract.

Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

“Growing up, my grandmother always made sugar cookies, cut into an appropriate shape and with appropriately colored sprinkles, for every holiday,” Katina S. shared. “She made enough for each grandchild in elementary school (up to five) to share with their entire class, so around 125 there, and enough for the entire Sunday school, so maybe 100 there, and at least 25 more to have at her house. So 250 cookies for every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. I wasn’t very popular in school, but I always felt special on the days I brought cookies.”

The cookies turned into a tradition. “My grandma passed away a couple years ago, and now I’m pregnant with my first child,” she added. “I’m excited to honor my grandmother’s memory by continuing to make her cookies for each holiday, including plenty for my child to share with their friends.”

While this particular recipe is a family secret, you can make your own sugar cookies with this version from Alton Brown and the Food Network and share the love. Quantity is definitely important.

Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Cake

“My grandma always used to make pumpkin cake for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Patricia B. “She passed away about nine years ago, so my mom started making it.” Patricia shared that the recipe was similar to this one from The Country Cook, with a few exceptions. “Grandma’s recipe used yellow cake mix, and she added her own spices, and she’d also put pecans or walnuts on top,” she noted.

Streusel Quick Coffee Cake


“The tradition is that when the women move out in our family, my grandmother makes us all copies of the family cookbook that’s full of family recipes and who made them,” Lauren M. writes. “We have all added to it, and she usually asks for additional recipes before making a new copy for the next generation. This is gifted at Christmas. This particular recipe that I circled is something we make every single year in our family, and my grandmother has taught each of us to make — even the gluten-free version for me.”

Merry Cookies


This last one is from another inspirational woman — the grandmother of her mother-in-law. Cammy S. was willing to share the tradition behind these Merry Cookies. While the recipe is a secret, you can still pass the idea on with your own dough recipe.

“My MIL makes these amazing sugar cookies we all call Merry Cookies,” she said. “We have the handwritten recipe in our family cookbook, but they always taste best when she makes them. They were her grandmother’s recipe, and they’re called ‘Granny Mameen (Madeleine)’s Merry Cookies.’ Depending on the holiday, she cuts them into different shapes. My favorite is a tradition she did for her four boys that she has passed to my daughter, her first grandchild — the shapes are numbers. So on her first birthday, they were all the number ‘1,’ and on her second she did ‘2.’ I hope for this tradition to continue as long as possible. I have pictures of her and my daughter rolling them out and cutting shapes together. She’ll remember them as her Grammy’s Merry Cookies.”