Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Prepare Haystacks – Texas Style

(c) 2013 By Tom King

Photo borrowed from "It's Gotta be Gluten Free" website
First off, we’re not talking about cattle feed here, though if you’ve got a whole lotta people corralled, this traditional Adventist potluck favorite is one of the best ways to feed them all, fill them up and send them on their way in no time.  It’s suitable for feeding visiting choirs, Pathfinder clubs, youth groups of all sizes and any group that shows up needing to be fed on short notice. 

Every city, state, country and continent has its own version of the venerable haystack.  In Hawaii, they put pineapple and macadamia nuts and stuff in it.  Up north I saw a version made with baked beans.  I’m going to describe the way it’s done in parts of Texas.  If you have a local version, you are welcome to post it here for all of us to share.  A Seventh-day Adventist named Ella May Hartlein is credited with coming up with the recipe in the early 1950s, when she and her family craved Tostadas and could not find a Mexican restaurant close to their home according to Wikipedia.  Apparently the Amish and Mennonites have their own versions of the haystack too.  Here's the version I grew up with.

Here’s what you need for Texas-Style Haystacks:

  1. Lots of lettuce (chopped or shredded)
  2. Bags of Tortilla Chips (or Fritos Corn Chips)
  3. Tomatoes - diced
  4. Onions
  5. Mounds of Grated Cheddar Cheese
  6. Sour Cream
  7. Black Olives
  8. Jalepenos
  9. Ranch Dressing
  10. Avocados or Guacamole
  11. Pace™ Picante Sauce (accept no substitutes)
  12. Ranch Style Beans

Here’s How to Set the Serving Line:

  1. Place two long folding tables end to end
  2. Chop up the vegetables, put everything in bowls with the proper sized spoons.  The only thing that needs to be heated is the beans.
  3.  Set out the serving bowls in this order on the table.

a.      First stack the paper plates at the start of the serving line.  Use the heavy Chinette ones because a haystack can get pretty heavy.
b.      Second place a huge bowl of chips right after the plates.  Tortilla chips are traditional in Texas, but I’ve seen it done (more expensively) with Fritos Corn Chips – regular sized.
c.      Third, set a huge pot of Ranch Style™ Beans with a couple of big soup ladles in them.
d.      Fourth, a big bowl of chopped lettuce
e.      Fifth, a big bowl of diced tomatoes
f.       Sixth, smaller bowls of onions, black olives and jalapenos
g.      Seventh, a big bowl of grated cheddar cheese
h.      Eighth, a big bowl of guacamole or chopped avocados
i.       Ninth, bowls of sour cream, bottles of Ranch Dressing, bowls of picante sauce and a bottle of Catalina French Dressing for visiting Yankees and Californians.
j.       Flatware, napkins, drinks

Construction Techniques:

You build your haystack according to your own tastes, but for newbies, here’s the basic order of battle.  You can pretty much follow the order of setup, but everyone has their preferences.  Here are the directions for constructing the basic haystack:

  1. Lay down a bed of chips covering the bottom of your plate. Everything else is built on top of the chips.
  2. Scoop hot beans on top of the chips
  3. Lay down a bed of lettuce on top of the beans
  4. Spoon tomatoes generously over the lettuce
  5. Sprinkle onions, olives and/or jalapenos to taste over the salad ingredients
  6. Cover with grated cheese.
  7.  Add picante sauce to taste
  8. Decorate with spoonfuls of avocado/guacamole, and ranch dressing (or Catalina French if you must). 
  9. Top with a spoonful of sour cream.  Always save one olive to put on top of your little snowcap of sour cream to complete your mountain of deliciousness.


A haystack is not a “Taco Salad”.  It is a breach of etiquette to call it that or to put the chips on top of the beans.  Everything else can be laid down according to your own personal preference.  Take it easy on the jalapenos if you’re not used to them. 

Haystacks are pretty cheap to make and very filling.  Young people love them and because you make them yourself, little kids can even make their own versions which leave out anything “yucky”.  Haystacks are perfect if you need to feed a lot of people fast and you can leave extra unopened bags of chips and beans in the kitchen and add more to the feast if things start running low.  We always keep extra unopened jars of Pace, blocks of cheese, bottles of salad dressing, lettuce and tomatoes to chop up.  If you don’t need them, you can take them home or store the unopened jars for the next time you need to serve this imminently useful dish for your church potluck.


  1. I want to serve this at a Meeting but how do they eat it? Do I have to buy knivesw and forks for everyone?

  2. Plastic forks work just fine. Nothing else needed.