Ripe quinces

The advent of autumn brings on cravings for the best fall desserts: warm apple crisp, sweet potato pie and wine-poached pears. Bringing out the natural sweetness in fall fruit is a great way to save calories and cut added sugar without sacrificing flavor, and if you haven't already tried quince, it'll be an amazing addition to your dessert repertoire.

Quince is an autumn fruit that is not going to win any beauty contests. It looks like a cross between an apple and a pear, but it's often lumpy and irregularly shaped, sometimes pockmarked with brown splotches. It's far too bitter to eat raw, and the flesh is tough and difficult to handle. No matter, though; once cooked, quince turns tender and fragrant and makes a fiber-rich, low-calorie addition to jams, pies and compotes.

Pick Smooth Fruit

Quinces aren't typically available at your local grocery store, but whether you're shopping at a farmers' market or just picking off the tree, go for fruit that are firm, with smooth, even surfaces. Avoid quince that are fuzzy, which means they're underripe, or that have large soft spots, which means they are partially rotten. For most preparations, you'll be peeling your quince, so a few brown scuff marks are no big deal, but try to find fruit without large bruises or gouges.

Peel and Prep

Peel your quince with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. The flesh is fibrous and tough and can snag blades, so watch your fingers! The core contains a bunch of seeds and you'll need to remove it; the easiest way to do that is to slice a section of the fruit off lengthwise and then continue slicing off smaller sections until you're left with the core, which you can either toss or use to simmer with homemade jams and jellies to add pectin and help thicken them.

Cook and Enjoy

There are a ton of different ways to enjoy your quince, but they all involve heating up the fruit enough so that it softens, sweetens, turns pink and releases its own thick syrup. One of the healthiest preparations is poaching, which involves simmering the fruit for an hour or more with some sugar or honey and optional additional spices, such as fresh ginger or a vanilla bean.

Not into babysitting the stove for so long? Toss your sliced quince into the slow cooker with a small amount of sugar, butter, cinnamon, a split vanilla bean, water and some raisins or dried cranberries for an aromatic compote that's perfect for topping Greek yogurt or oatmeal to make your breakfast taste like dessert.