Out of all of the dishes that make up a traditional Thanksgiving feast, cranberry sauce is one of the quickest and easiest to make from scratch. Although you could just grab a couple of cans at the grocery store, once you make it yourself, it’s doubtful you’ll ever go back to the canned variety. It’s wonderfully fresh, 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. It is wonderful on its 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 straightforward variety for the cranberry sauce purists, and another with some add-ins to make things interesting. I go with whatever suits my fancy and each year, it’s a little different.
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 closely. 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; 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 transfer it to storage containers. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
My favorite way to store the sauce is in these 8-ounce jelly jars. The base recipe makes precisely enough sauce to fill three 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. In addition, 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.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Yield: 24 ounces
Serves: 8 to 10
Total time: 20 minutes
- 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, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup raspberries, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
- Rinse and drain the cranberries. Place the in a heavy medium saucepan with the water and sugar. Bring to a boil, and when you hear a cranberry or two pop, reduce heat to low. While simmering, use a wooden spoon to press some of the cranberries against the pan to mash them slightly, if desired. Stir and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked down and slightly thickened.
- 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 the sauce to mason jars or other airtight containers and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least several hours until completely chilled, or for one or two days before serving. The sauce will thicken and the flavors will blend as it cools.
Transfer the prepared cranberry sauce to airtight freezer safe containers, like mason jars, and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator before freezing. When ready to serve, allow to defrost for a day or two in the refrigerator. Best if consumed within three months.
Apple or Pear Cranberry Sauce — Add diced apple or pear to the pan with the cranberries and water before bringing to a boil. Continue as directed in the base recipe. Add optional cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice after removing from heat.
Blueberry or Raspberry Cranberry Sauce — Follow the base recipe as directed. Add one or both types of berries and optional seasoning to the pan after removing it from the heat. Break them up a bit with the wooden spoon, if desired.
Photo Credits: Valerie Brunmeier