It’s a blustery, cold January day in the late 1700s when a storm-bound ship from the south of Spain docks in Dundee harbour. The town does not normally trade with Spain, so the cargo of ’Seville sours’ (inedible bitter oranges) on board is especially intriguing. Retired tailor, John Keiller, has taken his usual wander down to the harbour to join in the quayside chat, whilst keeping an eye out for the odd package of fruits or spices which might be a useful ingredient for his wife’s bakery business. No one is very interested in the bitter oranges, so he decides to buy some and, unknown to him, begins a dynasty which lasts a hundred years and becomes bigger in confectionery during the nineteenth-century than either Cadbury‘s or Frys.
John’s wife, Janet Keiller, has a shop on the south side of the Seagate where she has spent the best part of her life making preserves, jellies, biscuits, sweeties and cakes. She has always believed in diversifying into unique lines and it has certainly paid off. Now she is almost sixty, has a tidy sum put by, and is ready to retire. She is keen, however, to use her modest assets to help her son, James, develop the business. Of all her seven children, he is the only son who has shown an interest in her enterprise and has developed her innovative flair. He is just 22 when she puts him in charge of the business in 1797.