By Suzanne Corbett, Food/Travel Editor

Think Fourth of July traditions and you’ll likely to think barbecue, baseball and fireworks. For me the Fourth also means watermelon. And I’m not alone. Watermelons remain a must have for countless Fourth of July family celebrations.

July Fourth marks the start of the local watermelon season. To pick the best watermelon for this year’s backyard barbecue bash takes will take more than putting your ear to the melon and tapping. There is a better way. Look for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents. And check the underside - watermelon should have a yew spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. Finally, pick that melon up. A watermelon should be heavy for its size. 

OK, I know there are those who want to tap, so go ahead and listen for a hallow sound. Know the “tap method” can be dicey since everyone hears sounds differently and the tap test is often unreliable on the many varieties of melon on the market.

Hundreds of watermelon varieties are grown worldwide but you’ll only find a few at the market. The most popular, the classic oblong light green and dark striped Calsweet watermelon, the one most often seen at backyard barbecues or sculpted into a fruit basket. Gourmets have rallied around the round Yellow Baby, whose light green rind with dark strips protects its canary yellow flesh. My favorite is what we grew on our family’s truck farm, the Sugar Baby (we called it an Ice Box Melon), which resembles a dark green bowling ball.

Watermelon is a refreshing, cooling summer treat that’s low in calories and high in vitamin A and C and a good source of potassium. Serve it chilled and sliced or as an ingredient for drinks, salads and frozen pops. The Watermelon Promotion Board has generously shared the following recipes with fans.

Chunky Watermelon Lemonade

2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups seedless watermelon puree (made by pureeing seedless melon chunks in a food processor or blender)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped seedless watermelon flesh (optional for the chunky element)

In a half-gallon pitcher with a lid, mix 1 cup of the water with the sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the rest of the water, watermelon puree, sliced lemon, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir to mix well and chill thoroughly. For the chunky watermelon lemonade, stir in the 2 cups of chopped watermelon at the end. Makes 2-3 servings


Watermelon Popsicles

4 cups watermelon chunks, seeded
Fresh fruit: grapes, strawberries, blueberries or sliced kiwi fruit

Puree watermelon and pour into popsicle molds. Drop in chunks of fresh fruit into popsicle molds; then insert caps and place in freezer. Serve when frozen. Makes about 6 pops.

Watermelon Mediterranean Salad

6 cups torn mixed salad greens
3 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
dash cracked black pepper

In large bowl, mix all ingredients except oil and pepper.
Just before serving, toss salad mixture with oil.
Garnish with pepper. Makes 6 servings.

Watermelon BBQ Sauce
1/2 cup watermelon juice
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Stir all ingredients together. Use to marinate pork, chicken, veggies, fish or shellfish. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Sauce not used for marinating or basting can be spooned over cooked vegetables and meats. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Looking for a fun holiday, but don't want to cook or plan a party?

Check out the Drury Hotels

-- Most have pools,  breakfast, & Kickback Buffet is a family-owned business and we like to promote family fun whenever we can. We travel a lot and we often stay at Drury Hotels because we love everything it has to offer-- especially for families. We have been staying at Drury Hotels for years when we go to Royals games in Kansas City, Cardinals farm-team trips like Springfield and Peoria, as well as when we go to Nashville, Tennessee. We also like to take short get-away trips to the local Drury Inns, and our son B.J. used the Drury Inn as his "headquarter" hotel during his wedding weekend.

 Because we have always stayed at Drury Hotels, we contacted Drury and told them we wanted to promote them on our site. We love their hotels.

There is often fresh popcorn  and soft drinks in the lobby, and the cost of the hotel room includes enough food that you don't really need to spend money going to a restaurant.

They start you off with  their free Hot QUIKSTART Breakfast which includes scrambled eggs, sausage, Belgian waffles, biscuits and gravy. Plus fresh fruit, bagels, pastries, juices, hot and cold cereals, toast, milk, coffee, tea and more. Free hot breakfast is served daily from 6:00 - 9:30 a.m. weekdays (Monday - Friday) and from 7:00 - 10:00 a.m. on weekends (Saturday & Sunday). Available at: Drury Inn & Suites, Drury Inns, Drury Suites, Drury Lodge and Drury Plaza Hotels. *Fresh, hot pancakes are served in place of Belgian waffles at all Drury Plaza Hotels. Pear Tree Inns serve free continental breakfast, which includes pastries, toast, cereal, fresh fruit, coffee, tea and juices.

Drury will let no guest go hungry... at least every evening from 5:30 to 7:00. All Drury hotels are now serving free hot food & cold beverages for all guests.* Our rotating menu features a variety of hot food, including hot dogs, chicken strips, macaroni & cheese, baked potatoes, broccoli cheddar soup and more! Plus, beer, wine, mixed drinks and soft drinks are served everyday. There’s something for everyone at Drury’s 5:30 Kickback®. It's a snack for some, meal for others and free for all!  Check out the Drury Hotels, they probably have one in the area you want to go.

Besides the great food, they have free wi-fi and HBO so you could watch movies in your room. Or if you choose you can go to the pool or fitness center.

Whatever you do this holiday weekend, be safe and have fun.