The cold season is upon us, and so are the Thanksgiving recipes. Yes we all need to start early, especially if you want to test something before the big family dinner. And with this cold, spiced season come the many questions regarding storage, how long soemthing lasts, and whether it freezes well. Today we’re talking cranberry sauce: how long it lasts, how to store it, how to thin or thicken it, and whether it freezes.
How long does cranberry sauce last ?
Homemade cranberry sauce can last up to a week, if kept in an airtight container in the fridge. In the freezer it can last for up to a year, if kept in a freezer-safe airtight container or bag. It may turn watery when it thaws so give it a simmer the day of serving.
In essence, these are just cooked cranberries, with a bit of sugar and cornstarch. There is no dairy or meat that could speed up the decaying process. You could look at it as a halfway there cranberry jam, except for less sugar and less cooking time.
Canned cranberry sauce will last for as long as the label states, if kept at room temperature. If kept in the fridge it can last several months past its ‘best by’ date. Keep in mind that ‘best by’ does not mean expiration date. An expiration date is the last day the manufacturer guarantees the product is still safe to eat or use, if stored as directed. After that they are not liable for any lawsuits or complaints.
A ‘best by’ date is the manufacturer’s recommendation, the period of time they recommend you consume the item for optimal flavor. The food item may still be edible past that point, but flavor may suffer. Again, this is heavily impacted by storage. Always check the label for storage instructions.
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So if your cranberry sauce is past its ‘best by’ date by a couple of weeks, and was kept in the fridge since you bought it, it’s likely still going to be good. In any case you still need to taste the sauce to make sure it’s okay to serve the guests.
If you opened your can of cranberry sauce the week before Thanksgiving, you’re still good. Just transfer the sauce in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge. It will keep just fine for over a week.
Can you make ahead cranberry sauce ?
Yes, and it will safely last 7 days in the fridge in an airtight container. You might still need to give it a stir before serving.
Or you can freeze the sauce but may lose out on the texture of the cranberries, especially if you’re using fresh cranberries. Frozen and thawed cranberry sauce will turn a little watery. If that’s the case for your sauce, simmer it again for a couple of minutes, so the starch might catch all the excess water again.
Can you use dried cranberries for the sauce ?
Yes, just add some cranberry juice to re-hydrate the fruits. Dried cranberries still provide enough flavor, and adding some cranberry juice is going to rehydrate them while also adding flavor. It’s up to you whether you want to use sweetened or unsweetened dried cranberries, just know that you need to add less sugar to the sweetened ones. Maybe taste a couple of them before you start cooking, just to gauge their level.
Once your dried cranberries and juice start to simmer, it takes about 10 minutes for the fruit to rehydrate. After that it’s business as usual. Keep in mind that the texture of your cranberries might be a little thicker than fresh cranberries. A workaround is to soak the cranberries overnight in cranberry juice, in an airtight container in the fridge (before cooking).
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Should cranberry sauce be warm or cold ?
Most people choose to serve their cranberry sauce cold or room temperature. This is because the sweetness and acidity in the sauce come out best when the sauce isn’t warm. This also pairs well with the rest of the meal which tends to be hot – turkey, mashed potatoes, greens. Of course, these are personal tastes and there are those who like their cranberry sauce warm (but not hot).
Can you thin canned cranberry sauce ?
Yes, you can thin out cranberry sauce by adding water, orange juice, or cranberry juice. The reason cranberry sauce turns to a jelly is due to a very complex sugar called pectin, which is bountiful in cranberries. The longer you simmer the sauce, the less water you have, and the better the pectin can gel the sauce.
So if your cranberry sauce has turned to jell-o, place it in a pot with a bit of water, orange juice, or cranberry juice, and let it melt back down. The aim is to melt, not re-cook, use the lowest heat setting and keep stirring. Once the sauce has more liquid, the pectin won’t be as strong and you’ll get it to a more runny consistency.
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But how do you thicken cranberry sauce ?
This is rarely the case for canned cranberry sauce, it’s usually homemade that has this issue. You can’t cook the cranberries too long before they lose their flavor, and the pectin often doesn’t have enough power due to too much moisture, especially if you started with a lot of water. So you have two options.
First, you can add a bit of commercial pectin, to help the sauce thicken a little. This will not be very noticeable when the sauce is warm, but once it’s room temp and then cold, it will turn to jelly. If this isn’t what you want, use less pectin or try the next idea.
Second, you can add either cornstarch or flour. Cornstarch works better, but flour will do just fine if that’s all you’ve got. Just mix a bit of flour or cornstarch with cranberry juice to make a thin slurry, then pour that into the simmering sauce. Give it a couple of minutes to thicken while stirring. The more flour/cornstarch you add, the thicker the sauce, and remember that it thickens as it cools ! Don’t go overboard.
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If you’re wondering what the difference between cornstarch/flour and pectin is, the first two just thicken the sauce while the second gets it very close to jelly, especially when cooled.
Need a basic cranberry sauce recipe ? Use a 2:1 water to cranberry ratio, so for each cup of fresh cranberries use 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, add half a cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and some lemon and/or orange zest. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, then add your cranberries. Simmer on low and stir until the cranberries pop and from there on you will decide how much you want to reduce the sauce.
If you’re using dried cranberries, you need to simmer until the berries look plump, instead of popping. And you may want to swap the water for cranberry juice. Worried about the extra chunky texture of dried cranberries ? Blend the sauce once it’s done and no one will know.
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