Christmas Basket Series: Sauces & Jams

Cranberry sauces and jams are holiday staples that round out any gift basket. I like them because they’re versatile and can be made in big batches. I preserve them using a boiling water method to make sure they’ll keep for several months. Canning preserves can seem daunting at first (at least it did for me), but once you understand the basics, it’s easy to DIY some great food gifts.

There are all kinds of resources out there about canning methods. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

  • Always start with freshly sterilized jars and lids.
  • Have a pot of boiling water ready as soon as the sauce or jam is finished cooking.
  • Use a proper canning funnel to save yourself from having to clean up a goopy mess.
  • Leave about half an inch of space at the top of the jar.
  • When processing the filled jars, stand them upright in the boiling water and make sure they’re completely submerged.
  • Remove the jars after 10 minutes of processing to make sure they seal properly. While the jars are cooling down, you’ll hear a POP as each one seals.

You can sterilize your jars in boiling water, but if you have an infant at home, you might have a microwave bottle sterilizer like I do. 😉

Once the jars are sterilized, you’re good to go! The canning method is the same for both my recipes, so let’s jump right into the good stuff!

Easy Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is so versatile and easy to make that there’s really no need to buy the gelatinous stuff from the can…unless you prefer it, then fill your boots! There are so many simple cranberry sauce recipes out there that I’m not even sure where mine came from originally. It has just 4 ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups fresh cranberries (the bags you buy in the produce section are 1.5 cups)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Cinnamon to taste

Warm the orange juice and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat, making sure the sugar gets completely dissolved. Add in the cranberries and just let them warm up. Give it a stir every minute or so, and after about 10 minutes the cranberries will start to burst. Cook and stir until it reaches the texture you like – less time for a chunkier sauce, more time for a smoother sauce. Near the end, add in a dash of cinnamon.


If you’re not canning the sauce, just remove it from the heat and you’re done! As the sauce cools, it thickens up. If you are canning it, fill the jars while the sauce is still hot, seal them and get them into the boiling water bath right away.

Caramel Apple Jam

This caramel apple jam is to die for. I’m using local seasonal apples given to me by my mother-in-law. The recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens, and I tweaked it just a bit. The original recipe says to grind the cooked apples into a pulp, but I left mine in chunks (mostly because I forgot to grind them up…oops!). I also used only about 2/3 of the amount of granulated sugar that the recipe recommends and I added some cinnamon. This was honestly such an easy recipe to make, and I feel like caramel apple jam is a bit of a different twist on the classic fruit preserves. The most time consuming part is peeling the apples!

This jam is delicious just on a piece of toast, but there are so many ways to enjoy it – over ice cream, as a pie filling, on pancakes, with pork or chicken.

To make these jars gift-basket-worthy, I had to add a little pizzazz with some labels from the dollar store:


If you like the idea of making preserves for gift-giving or to save money at home, I encourage you to check out Healthy Canning’s blog post about Water Bath Canning. You don’t need any special equipment, although it’s nice to have!

Stay tuned for the next blog post to see the finished gift baskets!

🙂 Jessica


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