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Janet Keiller

  • Name  : Keiller
  • Born  : Active c.1800
  • Died  :  ?
  • Category  : Inventors
  • Finest Moment : 'Well, if we can't get rid of the peel, let's use it as a selling point..'

'Grown in Spain, shipped to Scotland, boiled in sugar, eaten everywhere'.

Dundee Marmalade was introduced to the commercial market by the firm of James Keiller of Dundee, at the beginning of the 19th century. There is a great deal of myth surrounding the invention of marmalade, and it is regrettable, but honest to say here that it almost certainly existed before the Keiller family found it, improved it, and marketed it. But there's nothing like a good story so here goes with one widespread one.

James Keiller seemingly bought a cargo of Seville oranges very cheaply, from a Spanish ship sheltering from a storm in Dundee harbour. He then found that they were so bitter that no one would buy them as eating fruit. Whereupon his wife Janet, so the story goes, made them into a jam, and thus was created the family name, fame and of course shareholders' profits in the years to come.

(Wheesht! I can't let this one go, it's so full of contradictions. If the ship was sheltering from a storm how could they offload the cargo' Don't they mean it had actually docked to wait out some bad weather. And how could an experienced businessman such as Keiller allow himself to buy bitter fruit' And how much cargo are we talking about, a bag' A hundredweight' A ton' Did his wife actually boil down a ton, or just a wee experiment in the kitchen. Nope, I'm sorry, I don't buy it.)

Right, on with the story. Marmalade had apparently been made for centuries as a dessert food, using a wide range of fruits, though originally quince was a favourite. These were boiled up with refined sugar. One particular flavour of this marmalade was known as orange 'chip' marmalade, which was common in Scotland. Now, the Moors in Spain had been growing the otherwise inedible sour varieties of fruits for ages, using the medicinal qualities of the skins.

What Keiller (the company) did was to take this orange 'chip' marmalade, and market the peel, or 'chips' as a visible, astringent aid to breakfast digestion. To use market-speak, they defined the product. John Mitchell Keiller (1851-99) entered the family firm, and ensured the firm hold of the company on the production of marmalade by seeing that Keiller's Dundee Orange Marmalade became one of the first trade marks registered following new legislation in 1876. He assumed control of the firm the following year. Company history has his great-aunt Margaret as the inventor of marmalade.

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