Saturday, January 12, 2013

Feeding the Five Thousand (or the Fifty)

The Haystack - The Perfect Dish for Feeding Massive Numbers of Young People

(c) 2013 by Tom King

Hawaiian Haystack
If you find yourself with a visiting academy choir, a traveling youth group, starving Pathfinders on a Saturday night or any group of hungry people, here's an alternative to loaves and fishes - The Haystack!

This delightful Adventist invented and promulgated potluck standard is supposed to have been invented by a Seventh-day Adventist named Ella May Hartlein sometime back in the early 1950s.  Apparently her family had a craving for Tostadas and could not find a Mexican restaurant close to their home.  Ella May got creative with a bag of Fritos and some salad fixin's and the rest is, as they say, history.  

This imminently practical potluck dish swept Adventist church potlucks like wildfire and soon every state in the union had their own version of the dish.  Adventist missionaries carried the idea overseas and there are now versions of the ubiquitous and versatile vegetarian dish found all over the world.

I have personally delivered the secret of haystacks to the Lutherans (prodigious potluckers themselves) and apparently the Amish and Mennonites have their own versions of haystacks too. It still amazes me that so many people have no idea what a haystack is and have never tasted one.  It's very sad that so many should be so deprived.

Haystacks start out with a bed of Fritos.  Unless you are in Texas, and then it's usually tortilla chips, unless you are in Asia and then it starts out on a bed of rice. There are other versions elsewhere, but you get the idea.  Some sort of carbohydrate forms the base.  Beans are almost universally the next layer, though vege-burger or some other protein substance comes next.  Pisco-vegetarians have been known to sprinkle fish over rice or tortilla chips for protein.

Next comes the salad ingredients which are as varied as are salads themselves.  Lettuce and tomato are pretty standard.  In Hawaii, haystacks tend to include some bits of pineapple and other tropical goodies. I've seen northern versions made with baked beans whereas in Texas we tend to use Ranch Style pinto beans. I've seen them with chow mein noodles, nuts, any number of salad dressings and toppings and salad veggies.

In any case, haystacks are easy to prepare.  They are flexible for feeding large groups because you can set out the ingredients and leave unopened bags and bottles and jars of fixin's in the kitchen and add a bit at a time to keep up with the demand of a hungry potluck crowd without wasting food.  Unopened stuff can go into storage till the next time a horde of ravenous teenagers descends on your church.  

Also, the ingredients aren't very expensive so you can feed a lot of people, stuff them full of food and the serving line goes pretty quickly.  If you've got a group coming and don't know what to feed them, think haystacks.  Kids never get tired of it and no matter what age they are, they can create a haystack that only has stuff they like on it (unless their mother is standing behind them in line and then they'll probably have to eat some vegetables). 

If you'd like an ingredient list or instructions for making the standard haystack try my Howdyadewit weblog for Texas Style Haystacks or join the Haystacks group on Facebook for ideas and opinions.  Apparently there's a group and a Fan Page on Facebook for Haystacks - they're that popular. We've had knock down drag out fights over there about whether tortilla chips or Fritos are the proper base for a haystack.  Some people get downright religious about their haystacks, I'm telling you.

The truth is, you can be totally creative with it.  That's why God gave us free will.  If for nothing else, it got us some pretty tasty (and wildly creative) haystack recipes.

I'm just sayin'



  1. Ahhhh I have eaten haystacks for years- defintely bed of lettuce- corn chips- layer of beans and vegeburger- tomatoes- onions- black olives- cheese- and sour cream on top- no other way to do a haystack LOL We had them mostly on Friday nite or for lunch after church on Saturday!!!

  2. Love the article, We have haystacks 3 or the 4 Sabbaths in a month, but I have to take issue with your Hawaiian haystack. I am 7 generations in Hawaii and I have never had or seen pineapple in a haystack, that would be an abomination. Also, haystacks are generally inexpensive unless you choose to use Worthington Chili (Chiliman before they changed the recipe 15 or so years ago) then it can get a little pricey.

  3. Perhaps the pineapple ones came from one of the other islands where they have an excess of pineapple. The person I got the picture and information from came from Hawaii (not sure which island). Perhaps there's some pocket of pineapple haystack eaters on some minor island in the chain.

    And I tried it once and it wasn't bad.