Foody Almanac – Recipes to Remember: The Basic Rissole

I am, by choice, a romantic. I always was. Even when teaching. (Rare in a teacher I know)

As a result, I am partial, if not prone, to bouts of nostalgia, wistfulness and sentimentality; and I can see, to the point at least of acknowledgement, the good in pretty much all of God’s creation.

However, I do draw the line.

I am happy to make concessions in the interests of people’s feelings. (I should, however, acknowledge, that I can see no good in tofu, the Hawthorn Football Club or Q and A.)

But, during those teaching years, my students helped me understand exactly where that line was.

I could find the good in the intellectual giants in 10B2 who had to drop their dacks to count to 21. I could find the good in Grade 8s who refused to go swimming in my Phys Ed classes (“What’s wrong with you this week Dion?” “I don’t know Mr Harms, read the note.”) I could find good in the 61 year old Geography teacher who thought she should be a UN Secretary-General and even the Woodwork teacher who tried to sell me Amway. I could even find good in the kid making pocket money flogging Valium down at the bike racks.

But there was one moment in which I could not see the good.

It happened in the denouement of each year. It was the student autograph book.

In December, when the Ralph-and-Sam battle was over (another victory to barbarism), students would seek teachers out. They’d stride towards you grinning idiotically and brandishing their autograph books: “Can you write something in this Mr Harms?”

And good students did it too. Nice people, who had been magnificently earnestly delightfully human all year, would ask you to write something spontaneously profound, something witty and unique to them and all their idiosyncrasies and strengths and weaknesses, a hard task at any time, but especially on the last day, when your mind was thinking about nothing else but your first beer at the Glen Hotel.

So I had a solution for this moment of educational awkwardness. It didn’t matter who came up – genius, dimwit, angel, tool, bully, bambi, bimbo, ratbag, crook, little miss, boofhead, jock – I wrote the same thing.


Dear [Student],

This is my mother’s rissole recipe:
500g of topside mince
One small onion, finely chopped
One egg
Half a cup of breadcrumbs
Tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Have a great life,


It’s a terrific recipe. The rissoles are better cooked in traditional butter, and allowed to get slightly beyond brown.

I would love to know if anyone ever tried it.


About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Emma Westwood says

    I would have been delighted if a teacher wrote out a recipe for me. Maybe even more delighted if it was a martini recipe. Thanks for sharing, JTH – I know what we’re having for dinner tonight.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Rissoles with just beef mince? My personal recipe has half beef mince and half pork mince. And lots of cumin and cardamom and fresh herbs. I might try adding breadcrumbs next time.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    How can you go wrong, unless you’re vegan?
    Long live romantic teachers, ‘rissoles/keftedes’ and valium.
    Death to tofu and Hawthorn.
    Q&A worth watching for Gigs’ and Cheryl Critchley’s Tweets, which somehow inject humour and substance into the world. Much like this piece. On fire today JTH!

  4. Gregor Lewis says

    What? No G—–?
    And this ‘g’ word aint gravy.
    Finely chopped garlic cloves in my Ma’s recipe had a strong binding effect – flavours, textures …
    … they even bound a friend of mine to chambers when he raided my lunchbox before another underwhelming helping of goop during school camp. He found the confinement particularly arduous since he had been ‘on the make’ and had to give up his assignation.

    Ended up whiffing completely and has always blamed Ma’s garlic in the keftedes.

    Hey! You shouldn’t have inhaled ten at once, I always tell him.

    I am expecting his next indictment this September – ‘My beautiful twins would have been 25 this year!’

    I’ll reply with a clove & a bottle-o-something.

    I can be such a rissole at times.

    He would have preferred your Ma’s recipe John.

    By far!

  5. Breadcrumbs. The essential ingredient is breadcrumbs (and the mince).

    My ol ma’s rissoles with mash and veggies was most welcome after a Tuesday night footy training session. With gravy. BBQ sauce added a certain je ne sais quoi

  6. A Fithall: Very Williamstown.

    G. Lewis: I didn’t know garlic existed until I went ot Uni. Nor had I ever tasted less than well done meat.

    S. Baker: As a kid we had a choice of anything for birthday dinner. Rissoles the most common request by miles. Followed by Weiner schnitzel.

    E. Westwood: You’ll go to sleep happy.

    Phil: Burger-rissoles had a Greek influence when I was cooking at the Cecil Cafe Oakey. Owned by the Florentzos family (magnificent people). When George moved on to the hardware store the new manager tried his own recipe and there was a local revolt. The thyme and other herbs came back I’d never heard of thyme. In fact I thought thyme was Rosemary’s younger sister.

  7. John

    The kids were lucky to have you. Nice stuff

    (Whadda ya call these? Rissoles luv.)

    Did one of the have the surname Kelly? I think that might be where Paul got the inspiration for the song. You’ve been robbed.

    Agree, things I can’t see the point in, such as plain potato chips, also has tofu and Q and A on the list


  8. Georgie Howitt says

    My mother’s rissoles had both garlic and Worcestershire Sauce, but no breadcrumbs. They weren’t crumby at all.

  9. G. Howitt: I believe Worcestershire sauce is a treat which should be enjoyed in its true spiritual place: on the stew (but not in the stew). At a pinch it can be used on potato chips but only if they are twice-cooked chips (as they were in Oakey of course).

  10. GL
    I’m with you Pete Clemenza’s “Goin’ to da mattresses meatball” recipe required garlic. I like the sound of “Goin’ to da mattresses rissoles” … you could feed twenty guys with that easily.

  11. John you have set up kids for life. I agree with tofu & Hawthorn [especially Hawthorn ] but I sometimes get a laugh out of Q & A

  12. Mickey Randall says

    The rissole makes a central cultural and culinary contribution to our nation. As a current ex-pat it’s probably what I miss eating most.

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