Haystacks or Hartlein Special?

By Wilona Karimabadi                                                                                                          [Main Story]
here are many questions people of faith have wrestled with for eons—especially Adventists. Not to sound too trivial, but the origin of haystacks is one of them. Most of us know the dish and love it, and still others just want to know where it came from. We think we have the answer, but the Adventist Review is open to having our assertion refuted. Read on for the scoop on what we believe are the origins of this most beloved of uniquely Adventist foods.
In the early 1950s Ella May Hartlein and her husband lived at Arizona Academy (before it became known as Thunderbird Academy), where Mr. Hartlein was dean of boys. The young family enjoyed dining out at a local Mexican restaurant, and they were fans of the tostadas. Before long the Hartleins moved to Idaho, then on to Iowa, serving at an academy there. There was a clear shortage of Mexican restaurants in those locales, and the Hartleins missed their beloved tostadas.
For a Fourth of July picnic, faculty women got together to figure out what to serve the crowd. Mrs. Hartlein, who by now had improvised and come up with a dish that would satisfy tostada cravings, had a suggestion. “I’ll tell you something we’ve had,” she said. And out came the story of how she began using Fritos for tostada shells and adding beans, lettuce, other veggies, and cheese. “So this is what I suggested to the other faculty ladies to serve at the picnic,” said Hartlein. The kids thought it was wonderful, so the school adopted the recipe and served it every week.
One of the faculty members was approached by the local newspaper to share recipes from the faculty women for a small feature article. When the recipes were turned in, this concoction of chips, beans, cheese, and veggies was labeled “Hartlein Special,” for Ella May. From there the dish went forth, though it is unclear when people began referring to it as “haystacks.”

Many years later, when a local pastor first came to Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, where Mrs. Hartlein is a member, she introduced herself to him. He immediately asked, “Are you connected with Hartlein Special?” Clearly, the dish, and its fame, have gone far and wide, known today as haystacks, and loved the world over by many. 

This article was published November 26, 2009.

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