Simple Stress-free Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce.  I hated it as a child. It’s still not my favorite thing so it skips my mind when I’m planning Thanksgiving.  I’ve tried all kinds of fancy things, but what people really want most is simple, basic cranberry sauce! But whether you are a make-ahead Polly planner or you just realized you forgot about cranberry sauce (umm… that’s me!), this recipe makes it stress-free.  And it’s just slightly interesting enough (without deviating too much for the die-hards) to bring a smile to cranberry-loving friends and family. And it takes 15 minutes!

So, what I do – and I really can’t remember where or how I learned this – is replace the water called for in most recipes with orange juice (plus some zest). The amazing flavor the citrus adds takes this to the next level!  

I also add just a touch of cardamom. Orange and cardamom are natural flavor pairings and enhance their tartness, but if you don’t have cardamom, don’t sweat it!  Maybe add some cinnamon instead or just leave it alone. 

I add only half the sugar most recipes call for.  I want the natural tartness of the cranberries to not be completely destroyed and it makes for a more interesting sauce, in my humble opinion, when it isn’t overly sweet. But your choice! Double the sugar if you must, but promise me you will taste it this way first!  You can always add later, but you can’t take it away!

I added one more thing here – you know I have a hard time leaving things really simple!  I had some beautiful fresh blueberries that I thought would add some depth of color and would compliment the cranberry orange thingy going on. This step is totally optional and if you have traditionalists in your family, you might want to skip it. But it worked well in my opinion.

You can use fresh or frozen cranberries in this recipe, just ensure they’re rinsed well and any debris is removed (like stems). If using frozen, there’s no need to defrost first.  When selecting cranberries, buy packages that have full, unbroken berries that are bright pink or red in color. Fresh cranberries will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator and they can be frozen up to a year as long as they are sealed in an airtight container.  

Cranberries are naturally high in pectin, which helps them set naturally into a jelly without the need for any other thickeners.  Gotta love it!

Can You Freeze Cranberry Sauce?

Absolutely! It doesn’t seem to suffer a bit from the freeze/thaw and actually is a fun addition to your summer salads (blend and add to your salad dressing), baked goods (think cream cheese cranberry bars) or just as a sauce over grilled chicken or vegetables. 

In fact, stock up on cranberries when they show up at your local supermarket and freeze them raw because they have multiple uses all year round like in sangria or toss them into smoothies.

Don’t get me wrong, as simple as I like this to be, I must admit, I love to experiment with flavor depth by adding a tiny pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice to bring out the flavors even more! I’ve even been known to add a tablespoon or so of something boozy – like Grand Marnier, dark rum, brandy or even port.  But feel free to keep it simple!

What to do with leftover cranberry sauce?

Leftover cranberry sauce is perfect to top ice cream, cheesecake or sponge cake. Top your baked brie with it, or just add to soft cheese appetizers.  What about cream cheese and cranberry sauce dip?!  It’s great on turkey (or chicken) sandwiches or layer it into your overnight oatmeal (or just put on top of hot oatmeal) or even on top of french toast or pancakes.  The possibilities are endless!

So, bottom line is …  of all the things to stress about when making a Thanksgiving meal (or thinking of what to bring), cranberry sauce should not be one of them.  You have my permission to serve simple cranberry sauce. It’s what the people want!

Simple Stress-free Cranberry Sauce

Take some of the stress out of Thanksgiving with this simple, quick, delicious cranberry sauce that you can make way ahead or last minute!
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Condiments, sauces
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving
Servings: 12 3 tablespoon servings
Author: Kiki Simpson, Healthy Sexy Kitchen


  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries 1 package - can use frozen
  • 1/2 cup sugar or equivalent sweetener
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 strips orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest finely grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom optional
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries totally optional


  • Combine all ingredients (except blueberries, if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a
    boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until berries are completely broken down and achieve a jam-like consistency, about 10 minutes total.
  • Remove from heat, remove the 2 orange zest strips and stir in the blueberries. Allow to cool.
  • Cranberry sauce can be served immediately or stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.  You can also freeze for several months.

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