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Anne Braly

Cherries have always been, and always will be, my favorite fruit. When I was a child, my mother would always make a cherry pie for my birthday. I didn't want a frilly white cake covered with sugary pink frosting like my friends had. No, I wanted a homemade cherry pie, and mom always came through. Even now, my daughters carry on that tradition, honoring that memory with a cherry pie rather than cake.

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Michigan and visit the original location of the Cherry Republic, the world's largest exclusive retailer of cherry products. There were tastings of every kind of cherry product conceivable — salsa, barbecue sauce, wine, beer, candy, juice. You name it, they make it.

Michigan is the cherry capital of the world, and right now the harvest is in full swing. If you ever find yourself in the Traverse City, Michigan, area, it's about a 30-minute drive outside town, with beautiful stopping points along the way, like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Need I say that cherry season is my favorite time of year? Right now, we're in the thick of it. Walk into any store and there they are — piles upon piles of fresh beautiful red cherries, as well as those sweet, wonderful Rainier cherries that have the slightest blush of yellow and red. It's hard to resist popping one in your mouth when no one is looking.

The only bad thing about fresh cherries? Getting out those darn pits! It's a pain, as any cherry lover knows. But thanks to modern inventions such as the Chef'n cherry pitter — you'll find the handy tool all over the internet for around $10 — it's much easier these days, as easy as cherry pie. It works like a gun. Fit the cherry in the place where the ammo would go, then pull the trigger. The pit pops right out, and you're left with a beautiful whole cherry. I fill jars with pitted cherries and keep them in the refrigerator to add to my granola for breakfasts or for a quick, healthful afternoon snack.

The best part of this column is a recipe you'll want to keep in your files to bring out every cherry season. I won't try to give you another cherry pie recipe. You probably have one of your own. But you probably haven't tried a grilled cheese/cherry/chocolate sandwich, have you? It's the three C's of deliciousness. Brie cheese is wedged between two pieces of good, sturdy bread, then topped with fresh cherries that have been sprinkled with small chunks of dark chocolate. It's a given that chocolate and cherries are a match, but add the brie and you may agree that three's not a crowd on this sandwich. The recipe works as a breakfast sandwich or for a casual dinner, too.

Balsamic-Roasted Cherry-Chocolate Grilled Cheese

1/2 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

2 thick slices of bread

1 1/2 ounces brie, room temperature

1 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped, room temperature

Toss the cherries in the balsamic vinegar, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer, roast in a preheated 450-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

Heat a skillet or panini pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place one slice in the pan with buttered side down, top with half of the cheese, the chocolate, cherries, the remaining cheese and finally the other slice of bread with buttered side up. Grill until golden brown and the cheese and chocolate has melted, 2-4 minutes per side.

A Real WingDing

Chattanooga chefs Charlie Loomis (Feed Co. Table + Tavern) and Andrew Platt (Ceniza) will represent the Scenic City in the Southern Wing Showdown scheduled Aug. 5 at 2 p.m. at The Fairmont restaurant in Atlanta. The showdown in sponsored by Springer Mountain Farms and is a fundraiser for Angel Flight Soars and Second Helpings Atlanta.

New this year are all-inclusive tickets, so all of your food, beer, wine, cocktail samples and wings are included in the ticket price. VIP tickets are $60 per person ($65 day of), which also lets you in the door an hour earlier (at 1 p.m.) to start grazing and imbibing. General-admission tickets are $50 ($55 day of). There are a limited number of tickets available, so buying early is a good idea.

And best of luck to Charlie and Andrew. We'll be pulling for you to bring the best-wings title home to Chattanooga! For tickets and more information, log onto www.southernwingshowdown.com.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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