Once, in a statistics lab, my partner and I were working on a pretty simple assignment. The professor gave us a squeaky-clean dataset and we were doing basic descriptive analysis. Shouldn’t have been hard, but we ran into a roadblock when I was [wrongly] convinced that several of our values were way too low. We must have made a mistake, I insisted.
Why did I lead us down this path of unnecessary complication? Well, our data set was reporting on ice cream consumption. And it turns out, the amount I consider “reasonable” average ice cream consumption is far, far above the average even for the sugar-mad United States of America. Once my patient partner informed me of this, I stopped holding up our stats assignment. And then we went out for ice cream after class.
I come from an ice cream family. Growing up, my dad told lots of stories of his favorite-ever job at an ice cream store. We always had some in the freezer and ate it almost every evening. My enthusiasm has not abated with age. Suffice it to say, when I learned that Boston throws an annual three-day all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, for charity, I was all in.
The Scooper Bowl is allegedly the nation’s largest all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, which is pretty specific, but I’m into it. It started in 1983 with just four ice cream vendors answering the siren call of the New England Dairy Festival, at $1 per ticket. They made $1000 for the Jimmy Fund, a philanthropic organization supporting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The Scooper Bowl parted ways with the New England Dairy Festival in 1996 and now stands on its own at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Three decades after its founding, a ticket costs $10, nine major ice cream companies serve up their wares, and the festival has raised over $4.5 million to date.
My friend L is a Scooper Bowl champion. She shelled out $20 for the Scooper pass, a three-day pass to ice cream heaven. As a newbie, I decided to start slow with a one-off. The day was brisk, at only 48 degrees, and drizzling intermittently, but we resolutely donned our jackets and took up spoons.
It was actually good to go on a chilly day, because if the weather had been any warmer, I’m certain it would have been jam-packed with eager eaters. Instead we had our run of the place. We wandered from tent to tent, sizing up the flavors. Each company had its own booth, with little fleets of ice cream cups lining up along the counter.
Aside from ice cream, the Bowl offers entertainment including live music, a few carnival games like cornhole (they missed the opportunity to rebrand as conehole), photo ops with funny hats, ice cream swag and merch, and the classic pastime of counting other people’s cup stacks to see who had eaten the most.
But the main attraction, of course, is the ice cream. How did it all shake out? Yes, I made a spreadsheet.
Instead of ranking all nine flavors, I awarded a top three for the day. This was pretty subjective and would probably change on a different day. First, I think the cold was affecting my tastebuds and giving me a higher tolerance for very sweet flavors. Also, I doubt I’d buy a pint of Yuengling’s Root Beer Float in the grocery store, but I gave it second place because the flavor was so surprisingly accurate and tasty. Third place could have easily gone to York Peppermint Pattie or The Tonight Dough (caramel and chocolate ice cream with cookie dough), but I was feeling more peanutty in my mix-ins that day and so Hunka Chunka edged them out. And although I’ve got nothing against standbys like mint chocolate chip and moose tracks, I had to pass them by to make room for the more unusual flavors.
Hood’s Fried Ice Cream, however, did distinguish itself. I’ve been having a Cinnamonaissance lately, particularly in ice cream (do yourself a favor and go try it at Thomas Sweet, especially with their bittersweet chocolate). This exceptionally creamy cinnamon caramel base was studded with bits of cinnamon crust that managed to stay quite crunchy. It truly did taste like the fried ice cream I loved as a kid at my local Mexican restaurant (along with their one-of-a-kind chalupitas talucas).