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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

From the Earth

Updated: May 20

Jake and Ellie were married in the last autumn of the 19th century―17 September, 1899.

They settled in Hartville, Ohio not far from where each had grown up. Their livelihood came from the earth. And by their sweat and ingenuity. They raised seven children to adulthood, one of which was my dad.

In the early years, Jake and Ellie planted grain in their rolling "upland" fields. They grew celery, onions and other market produce in the rich "muckland" patches on their farm. Their eldest daughters drove a horse-drawn "peddle wagon" to sell eggs, butter and produce to Canton residents, a good ten miles from their farm in Hartville.

Photo: Florence, Mary and Bertha--first three daughters.

Jake started a threshing machine business to harvest grain for area farmers. Ellie managed the homestead, keeping to the seasonal rhythms of gardening. In addition to the usual parenting, quilting, baking, cooking and other household tasks, there were fruits and vegetables to "put up" for winter, butter to churn and market produce to be washed and trimmed. Occasionally, when Jake was short-handed, she drove the team of horses in the fields.

There were difficult years―the children survived both scarlet fever and diphtheria, but then cholera infantum claimed the life of 2-yr old Lillian in 1913. The following year their log home burnt down. A few years later baby Henry died. But in their elder years, Jake and Ellie always maintained they'd had a good life and didn't dwell on the sorrows.

Both Ellie and Jake had an eye for businesses they could run in conjunction with their farming. Their children all helped. My dad, Willis, recalled pulling a small wagon by hand as a youngster to deliver fresh milk and cream to doorsteps in Hartville. In the 20's Ellie and Jake owned and operated a grocery store, which they sold in the early 30's. Later their daughter, Lottie, and her husband bought the grocery and ran it for 16 years.

Photo: Calvin Kurtz helps stock the shelves.

Photo below: Lottie Kurtz Wertenberger has her own store.

In 1930 Hartville was caught in the clench and the grit of the Great Depression. Jake and Ellie recognized an opportunity for a new entrepreneurial venture. A druggist in Canton wanted to sell his ice cream business, equipment and all. The Kurtzes already had a herd of Jersey cows, which were known for their rich cream. The Marlboro cheese factory certainly wasn't paying much for their milk. What better time to start up an ice cream business!

Ellie and the younger kids ran the business from their home which was situated on S. Prospect Ave. where a steady stream of motor cars went by. The equipment, which entailed an ice-crushing machine, six Frigidaire freezers and a 20-gallon ice cream maker, fit into the upper story of the garage behind their house. They sold 5-cent, double-dip cones from a conical hut by the road. The popularity of Kurtz's Jersey Ice Cream grew, and before long they had retail outlets in Canton, Akron and Cleveland.

Ice cream was made twice a week. The regular options were vanilla, chocolate, orange-pineapple, strawberry, maple-nut, and "white house" (vanilla with maraschino cherries.) Specialty flavours were added at times, such as chocolate chip, nut varieties, and whatever fruit happened to be in season. Melon ice cream was popular.

Photos below: Calvin (youngest son) by the "ice cream house." An original sign from the business, found at an auction in 2010, now hangs in the home of Jake and Ellie's great-grandson, David.

The business thrived throughout the 30's until Jake's health made it necessary to sell the cows. Kurtz's Jersey Ice Cream closed in 1938. Decades later, even after both levels of the garage had been converted into a residential rental unit, it was known in our family as "the ice cream house."

Jake and Ellie were "salt of the earth" people, giving their full energy to bring forth a livelihood from the earth entrusted to them. Ellie continued to harvest fruits and vegetables for her canning until the end of her life. Jake, in his elder years, seemed happiest when he was around animals or helping out on my parents' farm.

Now and then Ellie jumpstarted a few surprise businesses for her grandkids. Not with cash, but in her own way, which meant that we'd get "peeps" for Easter (to start a chicken business) or a pair of rabbits, (so that soon we had fifty bunnies to sell!)

Photos: Ervin Jacob "Jake" and Ellen "Ellie" Kurtz

The art of cranking homemade ice cream remained a family tradition as I was growing up. Ice cream was regarded as a "staple" in the Kurtz kitchen. Whenever my dad cranked the ice cream, the texture was as smooth as any I've ever had. Years later I asked him how he did it. Willis said his secret was to crush the ice into fine flakes. The ratio of salt to ice was also important: first layer 3 inches of ice, then add a handful of salt on each side. Do this procedure three times. He used "winter sidewalk" salt. Photo: Willis Kurtz, c. 1938.

My grandma Ellie's recipe was unique amongst other homemade ice cream recipes of the day. She was allergic to eggs, so she used unflavored gelatine, instead. Over the years my parents made some other adaptations, as well, (reducing the sugar and fat.)

*Kurtz's 'Jersey' Ice Cream

(*Please retain the name with the recipe.)

Recipe for a 6-qt ice cream maker:

1 1/2 qts milk

2 cans (unsweetened, 354 ml) evaporated milk

3/4 oz. (3 envelopes) unflavoured Knox Gelatine

  • dissolve gelatine in 1 c. of the above cold milk

  • heat this in a double boiler just until hot (not boiling)

  • strain gelatine-milk into the balance of the cold milk, stirring constantly

  • Add the other ingredients below to the mixture:

1 qt half & half (original recipe called for whole cream from Jersey cows)

2 c. sugar (original recipe called for 3 c. sugar)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla (or maple) extract

  • Ellen "Ellie" Kurtz advised us to scald, with boiling water, the cylinder and paddle before filling it with the milk mixture. (We always did.)

  • Enjoy!

🍦~KL Kurtz

Other Blog posts I've written that are related to Kurtz ancestry are:


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