The Taste of Portage opened with less than ideal conditions of cloudy skies and incoming rain of Friday, but festivities prevailed into a second day of sunshine.
“It’s awesome — we ran out of food last night,” Shelley Drescher said next to a line for Johnny B’s Rolling Smoke on Saturday afternoon. “We redid the (jalapeño) poppers three or four times, so they were up at 3:30 in the morning smoking to get us up today.”
The appetizer was a hit of the evening, she explained, with visitors getting a trial order, then coming back to put in a more serious order of three or four more.
When the Best Practice Band took the stage at Market Square, there was some delay getting up to speed as extra precautions were taken to seal up their tent and waterproof some instruments and equipment, but once secured, things started moving.
“We had a few sprinkles of rain,” said Portage Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Hanson, “but despite that, we had people coming out and the band was great and the food was awesome.”
Possibly adding to the success of the night was a handful of energetic youngsters, including a toddler who planted himself next to singer Jason Kaltenberg so as to rock front and center. An elderly couple made their way onto the dance floor, drawing attention with their abundant enthusiasm, the woman letting loose punches into the air.
“People were out dancing, so that was nice — it’s just a little rain,” Hanson said.
On Saturday morning, the downtown sections of Cook and DeWitt streets were closed as vendors opened up, while parking was reserved for vintage vehicles, guided in by highly visible kids in orange T-shirts representing the Portage Archery Club, who were engaged in a fundraiser.
The Portage Chamber approached the archery club six or seven years ago about helping with the Taste of Portage Car Show, with proceeds going to the organization.
“Myself, I’ve been doing this for five years,” said coach Todd Miller, who at about 11 a.m. Saturday was surveying the west end of the show at the intersection of Cook and West Wisconsin streets. “It has been great so far. This is probably the best turnout this early in the last five years that I’ve seen.”
Meanwhile, as the sun was coming out Saturday, more vendors opened in Market Square, including a tent hosted by volunteers from the Historic Indian Agency House. The volunteers did brisk business in lemonade, with a colorful display of foods on a stick, including frosted Oreo cookies, candied and sprinkled marshmallows, and if that wasn’t your thing, pickles on a stick.
“This is our first year trying this, but so far it is going really well,” Agency House Executive Director Jennifer Blau said. “It was very time-consuming to get everything ready. We have over 500 cookie products here and we’re hoping to sell out of them.”
One staple of the Portage fair circuit has been the cream puff, which was again available through the University of Wisconsin-Extension Home and Community Educators, who were raising funds for a slew of causes including the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit, Neighbors in Constant Care of Columbus, River Haven Homeless Shelter in Portage, Hope House of Baraboo, the Wisconsin Bookworms and the Portage Free Clinic.
“It starts at 11, but we’ve definitely already been selling,” said Bobbie Goodman, who explained that they had 240 pastries that they could puff, though during the Columbia County Fair they do about 1,000.
“And we’re lucky this year that we don’t have wind. The last two years, we’ve had a big problem with wind and sometimes our tent came down and we had to hold it, because you can see we can’t put it in the ground.”
Goodman pointed to the tent poles standing on the bare concrete of the parking lot.
Cream puff sales have been one of the major revenue sources for the organization. Goodman said, going back 16 years when its first whipping machine was purchased. The group has developed a “secret” recipe involving “a special kind of vanilla,” which Goodman recited by heart, including measurements.
Nonetheless, there was a laminated copy of the recipe posted in case one of the other members of the group needed to whip up a 60-puff batch.