Screwball ice cream is a frozen classic that many people remember extremely fondly from their childhoods – a frozen mess of ice and syrups that combined to give you a wonderfully sugary treat perfect for hot days. How ideal!
What is screwball ice cream?
A screwball is, for most people, a wonderful treat that they remember fondly from their childhoods. It was around during the seventies and eighties, during which time it was rare to have mass-produced frozen treats in supermarkets. While it was becoming more common, it was still generally not quite as widely done as today.
Instead, ice cream vans would typically be the vendors of screwballs. The idea behind the frozen treat is that you would get slushy ice in the top of your treat which would be eaten right away with a little spoon, as well as a gumball right at the bottom which you could eat later on if you so chose.
These were a huge hit among any number of people around the world – both kids and adults! There were several different flavors, all of which could be enjoyed by everyone. The classic flavor was cherry, though, after a while, a blue raspberry flavor was released, which people enjoyed all the same. The flavor of the gum typically matches the flavor of the slushed ice.
There were also variations out there which were known as the Two Ball Screwball. No prizes for guessing – these are screwballs that contain two gumballs. The frozen treat is so popular that the name ‘Two Ball Screwball’ is actually a registered trademark in the US!
At first, the name ‘screwball’ was exclusively used for the frozen treat that we described above. However, as time’s gone on, the name has come to mean any frozen treat that vaguely resembles the format that we outlined – it’s a fairly broad name. For example, in the UK a screwball is typically a cone with a gumball at the bottom, topped with raspberry ripple ice cream. This is not a traditional screwball, but that’s precisely what it’s named.
The one thing that remains consistent throughout all of the different screwball variations is the conical cup out of which it’s served – that is a very common fixture of the screwball ‘brand’.
Are they technically ice cream?
Well, no – not really.
Despite being served by ice cream vans alongside other ice cream treats, they are not typically considered ice cream.
Ice cream is generally considered to be a custard base that has been frozen in a very specific way. That freezing process includes a degree of churning, which is what results in the particular texture of ice cream.
Most ice creams use a custard base, which includes eggs that must be well incorporated to ensure proper custard. For example, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is made from this recipe. However, other ice creams use a Philly-style recipe, which forgoes eggs, instead of simply using dairy and sugar as the base.
This change is usually done for the sake of cost reduction and ease of making. When you’re using eggs in something, it can be easy to poorly cook them, leading to your final product being infected with salmonella. Removing the egg means that no such thing can occur. A number of our recipes are actually Philly-style ice cream!
However, a screwball is almost always not made from a dairy base. Instead, it’s typically made from ice and a number of different flavorings and additives that give it the unique color and texture that is associated with a screwball. This is more similar to a Slush Puppy than a bowl of ice cream, though that’s an exaggeration.
With that said, while a traditional screwball isn’t made with ice cream, the name has stopped being so exclusive to one type of frozen treat. Some places around the world will offer screwballs that are made with ice cream, instead of crushed ice.
What counts as a screwball?
Well, the name was originally created to refer to one specific treat: a plastic cone that held slushy ice and a gumball at the base. The ice was typically cherry-flavored, so when a new flavor came along (blue raspberry), the name was adjusted. You would ask for a blue raspberry screwball, or just a screwball – the implication being the cherry is the basic flavor.
Over time, several different prominent brands started to produce frozen treats that were similar to the original cones with a gumball at the bottom. These brands include Asda, Popsicle, and Eskimo Pie.
Any treat that fits the rough description of a screwball is typically considered a screwball – a frozen treat atop a gumball within a conical container. It’s tough to say whether variations upon that classic theme would be considered screwballs – if the gumball were replaced, for instance – though that would be up to the individual consumer. We would say that slushy ice on top of a gumball within a cone is a screwball, and if any of those elements change very much, we would consider it to be screwball-adjacent.
We think that we may have been overthinking this, to some degree.
What flavors are typically on offer?
Well, as we’ve said before, the classic flavor that was offered was cherry. Over time, though, more flavors were offered to delighted consumers, who were all too happy to grab blue raspberry, at first, before the introduction of other flavors, like lemon.
In the UK ice cream version of the screwball, the ice cream is almost exclusively raspberry ripple. If you’re unfamiliar, the ice cream is vanilla, which has a frozen ripple of raspberry syrup running through it. This was a very popular flavor before big brands like Ben & Jerry’s introduced the concept of mix-ins. The gum ball was typically raspberry flavored, to match up with the ice cream.
The most interesting thing to do would be to make your own version of the classic treat – perhaps making a vanilla ice cream with cookie dough mix-ins, and at the base having a little nugget of delicious cookie dough. It would be unique, and surely delicious!