Great granddaughter of Rankins greengrocer to tell stories behind fruit and veg in new book

The great granddaughter of Willie Rankin is donning her apron to track down stories behind our fruit and veg, starting with a look back at people’s memories of the legendary greengrocers.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 13th March 2021, 1:01 pm
Rankins was a thriving chain of greengrocers in Nicolson Street, Tollcross and the West End.
Rankins was a thriving chain of greengrocers in Nicolson Street, Tollcross and the West End.

When Louise Gray decided she wanted to write a book about where our fruit and veg comes from she started digging into the history of the trade and Rankins chain of family-run shops.

After the 42-year-old posted a blog asking people to got in touch to share their memories of the Rankins and what fruit and veg was sold there, it sparked an outpouring of nostalgia.

Through people’s stories of the ‘glamorous age’ of the greengrocers the mum-of-one has been amazed at what she has discovered about how much the way people shop and eat has changed.

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Louise at wholesale market in Glasgow

But the project has also turned into something more personal – a rediscovery of her roots. Louise has met people who remember her mum Marianne, who died when Louise was three.

The writer from Edinburgh said: “When I started research I knew so little. One of the first things I found was an advert in the Scotsman in 1924 for a ‘smart girl’ to work in the shop.

"The blog sparked this nostalgia for an age when fruit and veg was more glamorous and connected to the seasons.”

“Rankins was not just a greengrocer for a lot of people, it was a daily ritual, an opportunity to connect to the seasons, a place to see a friendly face. As the responses to the blog show, many people miss that experience.”

"What has been so unexpected and special is hearing people’s memories of my mum. It is special to have a glimpse of her life, through memories of her. I know mum was a famous ‘fruitaholic’ who ate more than one apple a day, tasted avocados when everyone else thought it was a bathroom colour and I remember she received a box of fruit every day. It is one of the few things I know about her. And I heard from long lost cousins through the Rankins Facebook page. It has been so lovely.”

Rankins, founded by her great grandfather William and his brother selling fruit and veg from a cart on Infirmary Street, grew to 20 branches across the city and by 1935 had Royal approval, ‘Purveyors of fruit and vegetables by appointment to His Majesty the King’.

Ms Gray said her Gran, Beatrice, shared her treasured memories of life at the family-run chain, just before she passed away in January this year.

“It was so sad but we got to say our goodbyes to Gran. Her memories were so colourful. She remembers the warm banana rooms in Waverley Station where the Fyffes fruit was ripened.

"Speaking to her I got a sense of how buying fruits and vegetables was a very real experience compared to the sterile supermarket aisles of today. Back when my great granddad started Rankins he would go to markets in East Lothian and pick out the good produce.”

“There were stories about my great grandfather chain-smoking in a bowler hat, my Great Aunt May stamping ration books and making sure no one got an extra banana and the staff who sent flowers to a sick little girl on the street every day.”

"We have lost connection to our food. Now fruit and vegetables are available all year round, it is difficult to keep track of what is actually in season. We don’t always have a human being to ask at the check-out, never mind a friendly face.”

The seed was planted years ago for the book but the idea was put on hold when Louise was on maternity leave. After her daughter Ada, 2, was born the new mum said she was determined to finish it.

Louise has always liked to know exactly where her food comes from. For her first book, The Ethical Carnivore, she only ate animals she killed herself. She hopes to publish the new book next year.

"I remember standing in the aisle buying baby food and feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and wanting to buy good food for my baby. It got me thinking about how little we know and how much people want to know. As the great granddaughter of a greengrocer I feel I want to be able to tell my daughter where her food comes from.”

"I wanted to look at how other foods we eat impact on the environment. For me fruit and vegetables have more character to tell a story. As I got deeper into it I realised there is a story behind every fruit and vegetable that can tell us something about how we interact with the environment. And the family connection is so personally fulfilling.”

“I’m writing about one fruit or veg every month. For February it was bananas. In March I am looking at potatoes and soil. The tubers are a staple of the Scottish diet but we need to farm them differently to look after the soil.

"Looking back to people’s memories of Rankins I got this sense of fruits and vegetables as something special that changed through the seasons. People remember baskets of fruit as a special thing. Being given one date or coconut as a thing to share was an experience. It’s this sense of reconnection I want to be able give to my daughter. If the book can help people decide where they get their fruit and veg from, I hope to help create a better world for my little girl, the great-great granddaughter of a greengrocer, to grow up in.”

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