Question: I was fortunate to be able to attend a Haystack dinner while I was in Arcola, Ill. The layered Amish meal was unique, so I'm hoping you can come up with the recipe. My family is anxiously waiting for your reply.

- Jody Reynolds,Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

Answer: While driving the peaceful back roads of central Illinois and exploring the rural countryside around towns such as Arcola, Arthur, Atwood and Sullivan, you'll discover homes, farms, cottage industries and one-room schoolhouses of some of the more than 3,000 members of the Old Order Amish settlement in Illinois. They travel to appointments and transport youngsters to school by horse-drawn, black buggies. They also supply Arcola's shops with Amish-crafted oak furniture, clothing, handmade quilts, fudge, brooms and a variety of faceless Amish, porcelain and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. Some businesses operate on the honor system: Shoppers pick their own goods, pay, and make their own change from an open cash box.

A Raggedy Ann or Andy clutched lovingly in a child's arms is a common sight in Arcola, where the dolls are big business. Arcola was the birthplace of Johnny Gruelle, creator of the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, so people from all walks of life gather annually in the city for the Raggedy Ann Festival - the 1998 festival is May 16-17 - to celebrate their love for the dolls. Over the years, the original Raggedy Ann's mop-top brunette tresses evolved into flaming red, and inside-the-body hearts of wood or candy yielded to a heart painted on the chest. Antique Raggedy dolls - especially originals made by Volland or Georgene - can be worth upward of $1,000 in excellent condition.

"In the close-knit Amish settlement, a community known for taking care of its own, a Haystacks meal is a traditional way to raise money," said Sharon Fultz, a "plain person" noted for her Haystacks and Pineapple Fudge. Inexpensive, easy and deliciously filling, Haystacks are sure to please.




3/4 cup rice

1 can cheddar cheese soup

1 soup can of milk

1 1/2 pounds hamburger

2 cups chunky salsa, mild or spicy (spaghetti, pizza or taco sauce may be substituted)

40 white soda crackers, crushed

1 head lettuce, chopped

2 tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

1 large onion, chopped

9 ounces taco chips, crushed

Cook the rice in boiling water according to directions on the package and set aside. Place cheddar cheese soup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Fill can with milk, add to soup, and whisk until well blended and hot. Set aside. Place hamburger in large skillet over medium heat and stir until browned and cooked through. Drain off any excess grease. Stir salsa into hamburger and set aside. Layer ingredients on serving plates as follows: Divide crushed crackers among four plates; add rice, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese soup, onion, taco chips and hamburger-salsa mixture. Serves 4 people.