Local Angus jams with near east ties
- Sandy Neil
- 11 March 2015
Jam and marmalade have a long connection with the berry fields of Angus and wharves of Dundee
Jam originated in the Middle East where cane sugar grows naturally, and the secrets of jam-making came to Europe with returning Crusaders in the Middle Ages. It was the inventive and sweet-toothed Scots, however, particularly in and around Angus, who mastered the art and now peddle millions of jam-filled jars back to the wider world.
Fruit and sugar boiled into a thick, sticky staple became extremely popular with Scots, because they could jam any fruit or berry growing in their kailyard or foraged from the wild. Thus seasonal freshness was conserved for the leaner months, in bright, colourful concoctions sparkling like jewels on larder shelves.
Angus's mild climate and alluvial soils are so ideal for sweet raspberries and strawberries that the red sandstone earth of Strathmore is, along with neighbouring Perthshire, at the heart of Scottish berry country. A soft fruit and jam industry first flourished nearby in Blairgowrie, nicknamed Berry Town, and in Dundee, once famed for its three Js: jam, jute and journalism.
It was in Dundee 300 years ago that thrifty housewife Janet Keiller turned her jeely pan to making a jam of Seville oranges, too bitter to eat or sell, which her husband James had bought cheap from a Spanish ship. By Jame's foolishness, and Janet's ingenuity, the Keillers invented Dundee's famously dark marmalade.
The local jam-making traditions are continued by Mackays of Arbroath, the only significant producer of Dundee-style orange marmalade left in the area. All the company's strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants are from the berry fields of eastern Scotland, and steam-heated on a rolling boil in traditional copper pans for an even heat and set.
The company, founded by the Mackay Brothers in 1938, was bought from United Biscuits by Paul Grant in 1995, when turnover simmered at £250,000 and exports sat solid at zero. Grant made the business race and bubble, clocking up sales worth £17 million in 2013. Recently he passed the stirring spoon to his son Martin, the new MD of their family firm, which employs 140 staff. That same year, Mackays filled 19 million jars of marmalades, curds and jams infused with champagne and whisky, and sent them to the breakfast tables of 60 countries including the Middle East, where they've taken jams seriously ever since it began.