Towards the end of the 18th century Janet Keiller (1757-1825?) founded a marmalade dynasty which also pioneered the Dundee cake.
The story goes that Janet’s husband brought a quantity of Seville oranges from a Spanish ship that was sheltering in Dundee harbour and she invented marmalade. Like a lot of good stories it is partly true but has been somewhat embroidered. Recipes for marmalades existed before Janet’s “invention”. It would be more accurate to say that Janet, who ran a shop selling sweets and jams, adapted an existing recipe. Her innovation was to include pieces of peel rather than pound the oranges into a pulp. The invention story lived on as marketing hype.
Janet and her son James set up a small factory to make this new type of marmalade. When James died, 1839, the enterprise was taken over by his widow, Margaret, and their eldest son Alex. Alex turned out to be a hard-headed businessman and the firm expanded under his guidance. Alex’s younger brother William was sent to run a Keiller’s outpost in Guernsey, which helped the firm to reach markets beyond Scotland and gave them a tax break since, at the time, the Channel Island had no sugar duty. In 1880 the company opened a factory on the north bank of the Thames, London close to Henry Tate’s sugar refinery. Keiller’s products were exported all over the world.
There is another story that the Keiller’s were the first firm to produce Dundee cake on a commercial scale and they did so to keep the factory workers busy when Seville oranges were unavailable. Recipes for this fruit cake decorated with blanched almonds came be found here.