Homemade cranberry sauce is the perfect complement to holiday meals, and it’s easy to make and preserve at home. Canning cranberry sauce is easier than you think, and once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to storebought.
Jellied cranberry sauce was a staple of my childhood holiday memories, and I loved watching my mom carefully open the can and slide the whole thing out in a single piece. There was an even split across my family, half jellied cranberry sauce devotees and the other half would only eat whole berry cranberry sauce. While I loved jellied as a child, now that I’m an adult, I’ll admit that I’ve gone over t0 the dark side and now I prefer the chunky whole berry stuff.
Though I’ve been canning for years, it just never occurred to me that you could make your own cranberry sauce. A few years ago we were invited over to a friends house for Thanksgiving, and when we arrived the cranberry sauce was just finishing up on the stove.
We’ve butchered our own hogs, cured meats, and even grown our own chocolate, but somehow seeing someone make their own cranberry sauce surprised me. Old habits die hard I guess, and in my mind, cranberry sauce still came out of a tin can.
One bite of homemade cranberry sauce, and I’ll never go back to canned stuff. It had so much flavor! Nuanced layers of tart, sweet, orange and cinnamon danced across my tongue. The turkey that year was so juicy that it really didn’t need it, but I still slathered it on with abandon.
It seemed strange though, Thanksgiving day is such a busy time and the kitchen is jam-packed with activity. Wouldn’t it make sense to cook the cranberry sauce ahead of time? Surely it only improves with a few days in the jar with time for the flavors to marry.
Cranberry sauce is really no different than a jam or jelly when it comes to canning, and it can be made a week, a month or a year ahead of time if you choose. If you’re storing it in the refrigerator, it’s best to make it no more than a week before it’s needed. If you’re canning cranberry sauce, the sky’s the limit.
How to Make Cranberry Sauce for Canning
Whether you’re making whole berry sauce or a smooth jar of jellied cranberry sauce, it starts out the same. Bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil in a pan and allow it to simmer on medium high for about 5 minutes. This creates a hot syrup that will help quickly pop the cranberries open. Once the syrup is good and hot, add in the cranberries.
The first time I did this it caught me off guard a bit. The skin on the cranberries pops open and it’s surprisingly loud. It’s like making popcorn, and I regretted making it when my infant son was sleeping. Keep that in mind, and don’t let the loud cranberry pops scare you. It’s all part of the process!
Once the cranberries pop and begin to release their juices the cranberry sauce will begin to come together. At this point, if you’re making jellied cranberry sauce, the Ball Book of Home Canning suggests straining out the cranberries and putting them through a blender before returning them to the pan. I think it’s easier to turn the heat off right after they all pop and allow the mixture to cool a bit before blending it up with an immersion blender right in the pan. Be careful of splattering!
If you’re making whole berry sauce, just skip that step, but either way keep on boiling the sugar, water and cranberries until it begins to thicken. Like any jam or jelly, watch the fire carefully and beware boiling over. I had to stir down frothy bubbles every minute or so until the sauce was almost ready, and there’s really no walking out of the kitchen when cranberry sauce is cooking.
After about 15 minutes of simmering, the nature of the bubbles will change and you’ll see the syrup quickly begin to thicken. Once the mixture sheets off the back of a metal spoon it’s thickened and ready. You can also test it for texture on a plate that’s been in the freezer. Simply spoon a bit onto the frozen plate and give it a moment to cool to make sure it’s thick enough.
At that point, pour the hot cranberry sauce into canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and center 2 part canning lids on top of the jars. Either store in the refrigerator, or process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes. Turn off the canner, and wait another 5 minutes before removing the jars.
Allow the cranberry sauce to cool for at least 12 hours before checking seals. Any unsealed jar should be stored in the refrigerator for immediate use. The others can be stored in the pantry at room temperature. Ball canning lids are now guaranteed for at least 18 months, but in practice, they last much longer than that.
For whole berry cranberry sauce, just pop open the jar and give it a stir when you’re ready to serve a meal. Jellied cranberry sauce will slide right out of the jar, just like those old metal cans I remember from my youth. Just be sure to use a smooth sided canning jar, like wide mouth pints, and then run the sides of the sealed jar under hot water in the sink before opening it and gently sliding it out onto a plate.
This recipe is adapted from my go-to canning cookbook, The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
This simple cranberry sauce recipe will make either whole berry or jellied cranberry sauce. Canning cranberry sauce allows it to be stored at room temperature, but it can also be stored in the refrigerator for immediate use.
- 4 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- 8 cups fresh cranberries
- 1 cinnamon stick optional
- 1 tbsp orange zest optional
Bring water and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add cranberries and cook them in the sugar syrup until they pop open. If making jellied cranberry sauce, turn off the heat and allow it to cool slightly before blending with an immersion blender. Skip this step for whole berry sauce.
Add in the cinnamon stick and simmer the cranberry sauce for about 15 minutes, until it begins to thicken and sheets off the back of a metal spoon. Add the orange zest (if using) in the last few minutes of cooking.
Ladel the cranberry sauce mixture into canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and seal with 2 part canning lids.
Either store in the refrigerator for immediate use, or process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes. Turn off the canner and wait 5 minutes before removing the jars. Allow the jars to cool to room temperature and check seals before storing at room temperature.
Fresh cranberries yield the best cranberry sauce. Previously frozen cranberries also work, but they don't thicken as well for cranberry sauce. Jellied cranberry sauce especially, will have a much softer set if the cranberries were frozen.
If you want to get creative, you can also can up most other homemade cranberry sauce recipes. Cranberries are very acidic, with a pH around 2.5. Anything under 4.2 is safe for water bath canning, and assuming your recipe is mostly cranberries then it should still be well under the safe threshold. Use your best judgment though. Here are a few more recipes to try:
- Apple Cider Cranberry Sauce
- Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce
- Very Berry Cranberry Sauce
- Spicey Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
- Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
- Roasted Cranberry Sauce
- Instant Pot Cranberry Orange Sauce
- Ginger Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Orange