By Mary Heyl

America celebrates 242 years of freedom this Wednesday on Independence Day! Whether you’re celebrating this weekend, on July 4, or next weekend, there are so many great ways to create a special gathering with family and friends. Read on for tasty recipes that will keep for days for whenever you plan to celebrate and a colorful, firework-themed experiment that every member of the family will enjoy.

Kara Lydon’s make-ahead Red, White & Blue Salsa is a festive and delicious appetizer or topping for a main dish! To get started, stop by your favorite farmer’s market or greenhouse for the freshest produce. Head to Waterman’s Greenhouse or the Wednesday Springville Auction for a great variety of bedding plants, hanging baskets and fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll need a red onion, 1 ½ cups of blueberries (about a pint) and 1 red bell pepper. Other ingredients include a can (15 oz.) of black beans (rinsed and drained), ½ cup of feta cheese crumbles,  ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Finely dice the red onion (1/2 cup) and red bell pepper (1 cup). Set the diced pepper aside and place the onion in a small bowl. Pour 1 cup of hot water over the onion and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain well and add to a medium sized bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. For an even more colorful dish, serve with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa will keep for 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, and also makes a delicious topping for grilled chicken or scrambled eggs.

If you’ve been invited to a cookout or two (or three or four!), you don’t have to carve a fancy watermelon basket or arrange fruit on a cake to resemble the American Flag! You can make up a batch of Coco Morante’s 4th of July Wine Sparklers that will be a big hit with the 21 and older crowd. Shop local at Cheap Chollie’s, Savage Road Winery or the Winery of Ellicottville, and let the experts help you select a dry white wine. Since you’ll be mixing it with sweet ingredients, a drier variety will offset the sugar. Morante recommends a white wine aged in steel casks rather than oak for a cleaner, crisper taste that won’t compete with the drink’s other flavors.

Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to make about 2 cups of stars from fresh slices of watermelon. Place the stars and 1 cup of fresh blueberries in the bottom of a 1-gallon pitcher. Pour in a bottle of dry white wine and 1 liter of chilled lemon lime soda (like Sprite or 7-Up). Gently mix to combine the fruit and liquid. Serve with a few fruit pieces in each cup. Create an extra festive drink by threading a few blueberries and a watermelon star onto bamboo skewers and place in each glass!

School may be over but you can still incorporate STEM activities into your summer! Fireworks in a Jar is a great activity for kids who are curious about fireworks, and is especially nice for little ones who may be frightened by the noise of the real deal! To get started, fill a Mason jar ¾ of the way full with warm water. In a separate small bowl, mix 3 to 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and several drops of food coloring (try 4 drops each of 4 different colors). Use a fork to gently mix the oil and food coloring. Watch the food coloring droplets (which are composed of water) stay intact in the oil, which doesn’t mix with water!

Pour the oil mixture into the jar and watch what happens. The food coloring slowly sinks out of the oil and into the water. Once this happens, the food coloring droplets will expand and mix with all the other colors for a quiet color explosion! This is a great chance to talk about the properties of oil and water with your children. Food coloring dissolves in water, not in oil, and because the oil is less dense than water, it floats to the top. This is why the colored droplets sink toward the bottom of the jar to dissolve in the water, creating a tiny explosion of color.