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Just like jams and jellies, homemade cranberry sauce is a great item to make-ahead and freeze. Transfer it into mason jars, pop them in your freezer, and you can cross one thing off your Thanksgiving “to do” list. These are my tips for how to make, customize and freeze cranberry sauce in advance. I’ve also included instructions on how to incorporate some optional add-ins to make things interesting.
Homemade cranberry sauce is one of the quickest and easiest items that make up the Thanksgiving feast. While you could just grab a couple of cans at the grocery store, once you try making it from scratch, it’s doubtful you’ll ever go back to the canned variety. It’s fresher, you can control the texture, and it takes less than 30 minutes to make. It is also freezes beautifully so it can be made far in advance of the holiday.
Today I’m sharing my base recipe that is wonderful on it’s own, or you can get a little creative and add in a variety of ingredients to jazz it up. Apples, pears, berries, and some cozy fall-inspired seasonings can be added to this base recipe to make it unique.
Each Thanksgiving, I always prepare two sauces – the straight forward base recipe for the cranberry sauce purists, and another with a variety of add-ins to make things interesting. I go with whatever suits my fancy and each year, it’s a little different. One of the most requested sauces at our holiday gatherings is my Very Berry Cranberry Sauce.
How to Make Cranberry Sauce
The base sauce starts with a 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries. You’ll need to rinse and drain them and place them in a heavy saucepan with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. This may seem like a lot of sugar but cranberries are extremely tart and need the sweetness to balance them out.
Bring the mixture to a boil and after a short time, the heat will cause the cranberries to pop so listen close. As soon as you hear one or two pops, reduce the heat to low and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes.
During this time, you can control the texture of the sauce by using a wooden spoon to press some of the cranberries against the side of the pan to create a smoother sauce. If you prefer a whole berry sauce, just stir it occasionally as it simmers.
Remove the pan from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of orange zest and 1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice to brighten up the flavor. You could absolutely substitute fresh lemon if you’d like.
That’s all there is to it. Allow the mixture to cool for a bit and then it’s time to transfer it to storage containers. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
Be sure to choose freezer safe containers if you plan to freeze the sauce.
My favorite way to store the sauce is in these 8 ounce mason jars intended for jelly. The base recipe makes precisely enough sauce to fill 3 of these jars. Perfect! Mason jars are also a great choice if you plan to make the cranberry sauce in advance and freeze it. If like me, you like to pack up leftovers for your guests, you can grab a fresh jar of cranberry sauce from your freezer to send home with them. And, it just looks so pretty that it makes for a great presentation at the Thanksgiving table or buffet.
There is a lot you can do with cranberry sauce besides adding it to your Thanksgiving plate. It’s wonderful served over a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, and even better if there’s a piece of warm apple pie involved. Try spooning it over a block of cream cheese and serving it with crackers for an incredibly fast and easy appetizer. And, of course, the day after Thanksgiving turkey sandwich would not be the same without it.
See the recipe below for instructions on how to make use of add-ins to create several different variations. This year I chose to add both blueberries and raspberries. It’s a gorgeous combination.
These jars are happily residing in my freezer awaiting the big day. A day or two before Thanksgiving, transfer the jars to your refrigerator and they will be thawed and ready to serve when you need them.
Grab those fresh cranberries while the gettin’ is good and make up a couple of batches of this holiday classic. Make and freeze a couple of batches in advance and you’ll have fresh cranberry sauce on hand for the entire holiday season.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- 1 (12) ounce package fresh cranberries
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange or lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
- 1 apple peeled, cored and diced
- 1 pear peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
- Rinse and drain cranberries. Place in a heavy medium saucepan with water, and sugar. Bring to a boil, and when you hear a cranberry or two pop, reduce heat to low. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Use a wooden spoon to press some of the cranberries against the pan to mash them slightly. Remove from heat and add orange or lemon juice and zest. Stir well and allow to sit for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.
- Transfer sauce to mason jars or other airtight containers and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least several hours till completely chilled, or for one or two days before serving. The sauce will thicken and the flavors will blend as it cools.
- Apple or Pear Cranberry Sauce -Add diced apple or pear to the pan with the cranberries and water before bringing to a boil. Follow as directed. Add optional cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice after removing from heat.
Blueberry or Raspberry Cranberry Sauce - Follow recipe as directed. Add one or both type of berries and optional seasoning to pan after removing it from the heat. Break them up a bit with the wooden spoon, if desired.
- Transfer prepared cranberry sauce to airtight freezer safe containers, like mason jars, and allow to cool completely in refrigerator before freezing. When ready to serve, allow to defrost for a day or two in the refrigerator. Best if consumed within 3 months.