Classic recipe for home canned cranberry sauce. Easy to make. Not too sweet. Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Canning a few jars of homemade cranberry sauce is one of my favorite winter activities. It’s easy to make and, unlike store-bought cranberry sauce, isn’t too sweet.
Like many folks, I grew up eating canned cranberry sauce. Then I was introduced to cranberry relish and never looked back. Until I started canning. After tackling pickled jalapenos, dill relish, and pickles, I wanted to try canning something sweet.
“Start with cranberry sauce,” a friend said. “It sets up easily and the fruit isn’t too expensive.”
She was right. While cranberry sauce isn’t jam, it gave me confidence. And the result? I loved it. The flavor was much more intense than traditional canned cranberry sauce. And even though it’s cooked and canned, it somehow tasted fresher than store-bought sauce.
Now, each fall, I make a few jars and serve it with roast chicken during the winter. If you love cranberry sauce or just want to learn to can, this recipe is for you.
Why You’ll Love Canning Cranberry Sauce
- Great flavor. Not too sweet.
- Perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals. You can make it ahead and enjoy homemade cranberry sauce on the big day.
- Easy canning recipe. Fantastic for beginning canners.
This recipe makes canned (shelf-stable) cranberry sauce. It’s helpful if you have some familiarity with water bath canning before making the recipe. (If you’ve never canned before, check out this tutorial on water bath canning.)
What Does Homemade Cranberry Sauce Taste Like?
This recipe makes a very flavorful cranberry sauce. Unlike the store-bought version, it’s not too sweet. The tart flavor of the cranberries really shines. You can add a little orange zest to the sauce, if you prefer a cranberry-orange sauce.
Ingredients for Homemade Cranberry Sauce
You only need three ingredients (plus water!) to make homemade cranberry sauce. It’s really that easy.
Fresh Cranberries: You need fresh cranberries to make this sauce. They’re usually sold by the bag from late fall to early winter. (It’s hard to find fresh cranberries out of season.)
Granulated Sugar: This sauce is sweetened with granulated sugar. Regular granulated sugar works just fine. You don’t need to use superfine sugar.
Orange Zest: If you like the flavor of cranberry-orange sauce, add orange zest and the juice of one orange to the sauce.
The Seven Basic Steps for Canning Cranberry Sauce
Canning cranberry sauce is easy but it does take some time. Here are the basic steps.
- Wash the cranberries. Rinse the cranberries in cool water and remove any stems or soft berries.
- Cook the cranberry sauce. Combine the cranberries with water and cook until soft. Then mash, add sugar, and boil for three minutes.
- Heat and fill the jars. Ladle the hot sauce into clean, hot canning jars. If the jars are cold, they can crack.
- Prep the jars. As with all canning recipes, you must remove air bubbles, wipe the lid, and apply canning lids and bands to each jar.
- Process in a waterbath. This recipe requires 15 minutes of waterbath canning. After placing the jars into simmering water, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Start the timer only when the water reaches a boil.
- Cool in the pot for 5 minutes. After the processing time completes, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the pot. Allow the jars to cool in the pot for five minutes. Again, use a timer for this step. (Note from Elizabeth: I’m always excited to get the jars out of the water. This step feels like it takes forever.)
- Check the seals. Remove the jars from the water and allow them to sit for 24 hours. After twenty-four hours, check the lids. If all the jars have sealed, wipe the jars and store them in a cool spot on the shelf. If any of the jars didn’t seal, store the jar(s) in the refrigerator and enjoy it immediately.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce: The Steps Explained
Preparing the Jars
The first thing to do is to wash and heat your jars. Wash the jars, bands, and lids in hot, soapy water. Place a rack or silicone liner on the bottom of your canning pot. (This prevents the jars from getting too hot on the bottom and cracking.)
Fill your canning pot with water and place the jars into the pot. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. You don’t need to boil the jars.
Keep the jars hot until you’re ready to fill them. On some stovetops, you might want to reduce the heat to low once the water reaches a simmer.
Preparing the Cranberries (and Orange)
This recipe uses eight cups of fresh cranberries. This is about two 12 ounce bags. For this recipe, measuring by volume is preferred.
Rinse the cranberries with cool water. Then spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and pick out any stems or soft berries. I do four cups at a time. This makes it easier to pick over the berries for stems than washing all the cranberries at one time.
If you’re going to use an orange in the recipe, wash it before zesting.
Cooking the Sauce
This is my favorite part of the process. The cranberries are cooked with a little water until they burst and are soft (Fun fact: they often make a popping sound as the skin splits.)
Mash the berries. Once the berries are soft, it’s time to mash them. A potato masher makes quick work of mashing the soft berries. If you don’t own a masher, no problem. The cranberries mash easily with the back of a wooden spoon. Using a wooden spoon takes a few more minutes. Go slow, pressing the cranberries against the side of the pot with the back of the spoon, until the mixture is mashed.
Note: this recipe makes a crushed, whole berry cranberry sauce. If you want a smooth sauce, press the sauce through a fine strainer at this point.
Add the sugar and orange zest. After mashing the berries, it’s time to add the sugar. Traditional recipes call for four cups of granulated sugar to eight cups of berries. This makes for an overly sweet cranberry sauce. I prefer to use two cups of sugar. However, I always taste the cranberry sauce after adding the sugar. If the cranberries are especially tart, more sugar is sometimes needed. It’s fine to adjust the amount of sugar to taste.
Boil the Sauce. Bring the cranberry sauce to a boil and boil for three minutes. The sauce might foam a little during this step. This is normal. If the foam is excessive, you can add 1/2 teaspoon, no more, butter to the sauce to reduce the foam.
Fill the Jars
I suggest using half-pint jars for cranberry sauce. If you have a large family, you might want to use pint jars. The processing time remains the same.
Ladle the hot cranberry sauce into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a ruler or headspace measuring tool to ensure you’ve filled the jars correctly.
Once you’ve filled the jars, remove air bubbles by running a bubbling tool around the sides of the jar. Wipe the lids with a clean damp cloth and apply the lids and bands until fingertip-tight.
Process the Cranberry Sauce
Using a jar lifter, carefully place the filled jars onto a rack in the pot of simmering water. The water should be about 180 degrees F.. The water should cover your jars by one to two inches.
Cover the pot and bring the water to a rolling boil. When the water reaches the boil, start your timer. Pints and half-pints of cranberry sauce should be processed for 15 minutes.
When the processing time completes, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the pot. Allow the jars to cool in the pot for five minutes.
Lift the jars out of the canner with a can lifter and place on a dry towel. Allow the jars to cool for 24 hours. Do not touch the lids and bands during this time.
FAQs: Cranberry Sauce
Can I reduce the sugar?
Yes. It is safe to reduce the sugar. Please note that cranberries are very sour. I recommend tasting the sauce as you reduce the sugar.
Can I use honey or maple syrup in this recipe?
I haven’t tested the recipe with either honey or maple syrup. So I can’t say.
Do I serve cranberry sauce hot or cold?
That’s up to you. I usually serve this cranberry sauce at room temperature. If you prefer a warm cranberry sauce, heat the sauce in a small pot for a few minutes over very low heat.
How do I store the leftovers?
Once you open a preserved jar, the leftovers must be stored in the refrigerator and enjoyed within a few days.
Can I seal the jars with wax?
No. This is an unsafe sealing method.
Can I skip the waterbath?
If you want to make the cranberry sauce and enjoy it within a few days, you can skip processing the jars. For shelf-stable cranberry sauce, the jars must be processed.
Can I use this cranberry sauce for cranberry cream cheese pies?
Yes! Instead of cutting jellied cranberry sauce into slices, spoon this sauce onto the cream cheese for cranberry hand pies.
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Classic canning recipe for cranberry sauce. Not too sweet. Perfect for Thanksgiving.
- 8 cups fresh cranberries (about 24 ounces; 680 grams)
- 2 cups water (16 ounces; 454 grams)
- 2 cups granulated sugar, plus more as needed (14 ounces; 397 grams)
- Zest and juice of one orange, optional
Prepare Cranberries. Wash cranberries. Spread on paper-towel lined baking sheet and remove any stems and soft berries.
Cook Cranberries. Combine cranberries and water in a large pot. Cook over medium-high heat until berries pop and are soft, about 10 minutes. Some white foam might appear while the cranberries cook. This is normal.
Mash Cranberries. Reduce heat to low and mash cranberries with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Stir. (For a smooth cranberry sauce, press the cooked cranberries through a fine mesh strainer.)
Add sugar. Stir in the granulated sugar and, if using, the orange zest and juice. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Once the sauce reaches a boil, cook for three minutes. (Use a timer for this step.) Taste. If the sauce is too sour, add additional sugar. If you add additional granulated sugar, boil for an additional minute.
Fill Jars. Ladle cranberry sauce into hot jars. Leave ½-inch headspace. Using a canning tool, remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of jars and place the canning lid on jar. Screw on the canning ring; fingertip tight. Place jars into boiling water. When water returns to a boil, process jars for 15 minutes.
Cool Jars. Remove jars from the canner. Allow to sit for 24 hours. Wipe jars. Check lids for seal. Label and store for up to one year.
How to Prepare the Jars. Basic Waterbath Canning Steps, Explained
Prepare Jars. Wash jars and inspect for any cracks. Place a rack or silicone liner in the bottom of a large pot. Place empty jars in the pot. Fill with water. (Water should cover the empty jars by 1-inch.)
Heat Water. Bring the water to a simmer. Heat jars for 10 minutes. This prevents the jars from cracking when you ladle hot sauce into them.
Fill Jars. When cranberry sauce is ready, lift hot jars from the canning pot. Fill as directed.
Heat Jars. Return jars to pot. Check that there is one to two inches of water covering the jars.
Process Jars. Cover pot. Increase heat and bring water to a boil. When the water reaches a boil, start your timer. Process (boil) the jars for 15 minutes. Maintain a rolling boil for the entire 15 minutes.
Cool Jars. After 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Remove lid from pot. Allow the jars to sit in the pot for 5 minutes. Then lift jars out of the canner and place on a dry towel. Do not remove band (ring) from jar. As the jars cool, the lids might make a pinging sound.
Check Jars. After 24 hours, remove the band, wipe the jars, and check the seal. If a jar has not sealed, place it into the refrigerator and enjoy within a few days. Sealed jars may be placed on a shelf. (The best storage is between 50 and 70 degrees F.