Baltimore Sun

African-American seed collection

A collection of heirloom seeds used by African-Americans and brought to this country from Africa and the Carribean is featured in the D. Landreth Seed Company's stunning 2010 catalog.

The collection is the result of food research by culinary historian Michael Twitty, who did much of his work on Maryland's Eastern shore.

It includes brown crowder, a cow pea from West Africa, Louisiana eggplant, grown in the gardens of slaves, peanuts, okra, hot peppers, and lots of greens and squashes.


These vegetables and herbs were culinary staples in the African-American family, but no doubt made it into the meals they prepared for their owners, and later, their employers.

Barbara Melera chose this painting to illustrate the collection in her lustrous catalog. It is from an oil painting commissioned by the seed company in 1909, and it has its own interesting history.


(The catalog is the subject of my garden column in The Baltimore Sun.)

The painting was inspired by a photograph taken by Rudolph Eikemeyer, between 1984 and 1900, entitled Aunt Chloe Preparing Dinner, and it was included in his book of photos documenting the daily life, post-slavery, of African-Americans.

Melera found the dust-covered painting when she took over the company in 2003, but it does not bear much resemblance to the original photo.

In that photo, according to Philadelphia Inquirer garden writer Ginny Smith, Aunt Chloe's eyes are downcast, her clothes are worn and there are vegetable scraps at her feet.

This Chloe looks clean, bright and cheerful.

Still she illustrates the complex relationship we have with our country's slave-owning past.