Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Billy's Rissoles

After I’d spent three miserable years at St Louis’ Convent my parents relented and allowed me to leave after the third year. It’s very likely I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay anyway as I’d made a very poor show in my Junior examinations.

So it was off to Antrim Technical College to do a pre-nursing course. It was still school but compared to the Convent it was heaven. At that time the ‘tech’ or Further Education College was more formal than it is today. Boys could go from age eleven, everyone wore uniforms and it was said that Mr Bell the headmaster even used the cane! But only on boys.

At lunchtime we could actually leave the building and go into town. And sometimes if we got chatting to boys in O’Neill’s Café we didn’t bother going back in the afternoon. Of course, being painfully shy, I didn’t chat much to boys. But I liked being around when chatting was going on.

The Tech was where I first met and got to know Protestants. If there was sectarianism and bigotry around I can’t say I ever experienced or even noticed it. This was 1968 and the Troubles were just about to begin. We had a very enlightened teacher of Current Affairs and she grounded me in the background of Northern Ireland politics pre-1968. It’s probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever learned at school. Before I met Winifred Law I thought that Gerry Mandering was a politician who Nationalists didn’t trust an inch.

This wasn’t quite as bizarre as my previous miscomprehension of world affairs when, as a somewhat younger child, I’d thought that the Viet Cong had trained gorillas fighting for them and that the Americans, whilst very brave, hadn’t a chance of winning. I used to avidly watch the news hoping for a glimpse of these gorillas.

All this came back to me as a result of talking to my Aunt Maud yesterday. Maud’s brother Billy ran a café in Antrim that we went to occasionally. O’Neill’s Café was where the boys hung out but at Billy’s you could get rissoles. Those rissoles were so good.

I asked Aunt Maud,

Did your Billy tell anybody his rissole recipe before he died?

No. He never did.

That was a pity.

There was one thing he put into those rissoles that he never told anyone. But I think I know what it was.

What was it?

I think it was powdered onion soup.

Billy’s rissoles were made from carrots, onions, sausage meat and his secret ingredient. This mixture was shaped, dipped in flour, then beaten egg, then coated in batter and deep-fried. One rissole was enough for two people. Maud said that Billy never made much money of his most famous dish because he ‘made them too big.’ She also said he was very particular about his batter and ‘went mad’ if anyone opened the fridge door while it was chilling.

When I got home I got on the Internet and googled Antrim +Billy’s Café. I found this page and then spent hours looking at the whole site. Fascinating stuff for anyone who remembers pre-Troubles Antrim. I found myself looking at pictures of girls I remember from school, teachers from the Tech and staff from my time working in Holywell Hospital. I even saw a picture from the 40s that was taken down Matty’s road. The site is basically a digital photo album but it is also a labour of love to be greatly appreciated by old-timers like me. I can’t wait to tell Aunt Maud about it. She’ll be getting a ‘puter for sure.


Hails said...

I've never heard of a rissole, but I want one after reading that! You have made me nostalgic for Gregg's Bakery, one of which was situated right beside my workplace during a summer job when I was a student in Glasgow. I think I gained about a stone in weight that summer. They sold the most amazing savoury pastries, including something called a 'bridie'. To this day I have no idea what a 'bridie' is (seemed to involved a sausagemeat/veg mixture, only in pastry, not batter), but I consumed several dozen of them over those 3 months... (started WeightWatchers that September).

Bliss said...

Not the post/comment for me to read, as I skipped breakfast. Now I want a rissole and/or a bridie. :)

Nelly said...

Bliss - you should never skip breakfast.

Hails - I'll be checking out bridie recipes on the web.

Barry said...

I've just been in Antrim, my home town, for the first time in ages. Billy's cafe sat on what was known as Ulstrer bar corner.

I used to pop into Billy's for a rissole 40p as I recall circa 1982, after saturday morning swimming lessons at the forum.

The site was compulsarily purchased, I think circa 1984, to build a bus station and library.

Finally after 25 years I now see that the site is being re-developed after lying as a sore within Antrim town centre for a quarter of a century. But I can help thinking that a generation of Antrim kids missed out on Billy's Rissoles.

Anonymous said...

I worked in Billy's and was part of the mix up process. Your ingredients were close but the rissoles he made when I was there were not dipped in batter but bread crumbs. I remember coz I spent hours blending bread. Lol. The things ya do when your 14.

Nelly said...

Interesting comments there from Barry and Anon. I'd give anything to taste one of Billy's rissoles again.

Nelly said...

Interesting comments there from Barry and Anon. I'd give anything to taste one of Billy's rissoles again.

Unknown said...

hi.my granny worked in Billy's cafe and she made the rissoles.they were so tasty and the secret ingredient was indeed onion soup mix.my sister told me years ago.i remember my granny getting me a rissole to cook at home but it just wasnt the same.havent found anywhere that has done rissoles the same. gordon