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18 June 2014
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Keiller's: Sticky Success

Keillers' Factory
Keillers' Factory
© Scran
It is generally accepted that the Keillers went from the discovery of marmalade to a factory operation in a remarkably short time; such was the desire and profitability of this new, exotic – but still familiar – product. However, recent research has unearthed the more humble beginnings and arduous rise to profitability of the Keillers – and also discovered a story beset by jealousy and commercial fratricide.

In his book, The Keiller Dynasty 1800-1879, academic WM Matthew dispels the romantics’ theory and charts how the Keillers rose from a small sweet shop in the Seagate area of the city to exporting their product to places as far afield as Shanghai and Sydney.

Janet Keiller owned a small sweet shop, specialising in selling jam and ‘boilings’, with fruit picked from the locality – namely the berry fields of Blairgowrie and the Carse of Gowrie, a 26-mile stretch of rich farmland that separates Dundee from the city of Perth. Keiller, we have no reason to disbelieve, was the recipient of a few Spanish oranges and probably did ‘invent’ marmalade in its current form – but probably by modifying a current recipe using quince.

Indeed, the notion that Keiller invented marmalade from scratch is quite preposterous, especially as recipes for similar ‘pots’ have been traced back to the 1500s; what is more probable is that she, an experienced maker of sweets and jam, used her existing knowledge and new raw materials to put her own particular twist on an existing recipe and came up with the ‘chip’ marmalade we know.

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