Trick or treat or kale

Remember the good old days when you would go trick-or-treating and there was always one amazing house where you were guaranteed an awesome piece of kohlrabi or a couple of Brussels sprouts? Probably not. I know that I would have put toilet paper all over the front porch of any house that had the audacity to give me Brussels sprouts instead of M & M’s when I was a kid. Used toilet paper.

But, alas, I was a child long before we learned that we should all eat more kale. I couldn’t have picked kale out of a lineup that included Sponge Bob, Bruce Jenner, and Wilson the Volleyball. I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables. And on Halloween night, I kind of expected that I would fill my bag with enough sugar to launch me into space like an Apollo rocket.

But times change. This Friday night, Halloween, somewhere between 60 and 70 kids will go to Cynthia Kelley’s home knowing full well that they might be offered kale. Or a sliced roasted beet. Or maybe a piece of a turnip. Cynthia has been doing this for 22 years, first in Colchester and now in Essex Junction, Vermont.

“I’m not stupid, I give out candy, too,” she told me. But there is always that vegetable.

The tradition began in 1992. She and her husband, Todd, were eating dinner at 4:30 so they would be done well before the kids started arriving, their mouths open and chirping for candy like baby birds. But at 4:35, the first trick-or-treaters arrived. While her husband tried desperately to find the candy – which they had hidden so Cynthia wouldn’t eat it – she went to the door and tried to convince the seven-year-old boy that candy was coming and to please hang around. As a joke she picked a piece of broccoli off her own dinner plate and said, “This year we’re giving each trick-or-treater a choice of broccoli or candy.” Much to her astonishment, the little boy picked the broccoli.


Cynthia Kelley is known in her neighborhood for giving out vegetables as well as candy on Halloween night. Here she is showing Dallas Martell what kale looks like back in 2003.
Cynthia Kelley is known in her neighborhood for giving out vegetables as well as candy on Halloween night. Here she is showing Dallas Martell what kale looks like back in 2003.

But then her husband arrived with the candy and they give the kid a chocolate bar, as well. Two, as a matter of fact. This is called self-preservation. She had to know that she would have been seriously risking her home’s property value by sending the kid back into the night with just a broccoli floret.

Still, the child had really been into the vegetable. And so she offered broccoli to other kids that evening, and she was utterly shocked by how many wanted the green stuff.

The following year she gave out kale – again, along with candy. Thus was born a tradition. Since then, among the more exotic veggies she has handed out to the little ghosts and goblins have been arugula, radishes, Bok Choy, mustard greens, parsnips, shallots, and Swiss chard. (I am a grown man and I don’t eat Swiss chard. I tip my cap to the kids in Colchester and Essex Junction.) One year “crispy leeks” were a particular favorite, she recalls.

Cynthia grows all of the vegetables herself in her backyard garden.

So, have her trees in Colchester and Essex Junction ever been draped in toilet paper? Has a vampire or princess or pretend George Bush (who famously hated broccoli) ever gotten medieval on Cynthia’s cars with a can of shaving cream? Have the walls and windows of her home ever been egged? Nope. Never.

“The kids know they get too much candy,” she said. “And they know what I’m going to be handing out. They feel like they get what they came for.”

Indeed. Her trick-or-treaters are very, very loyal. They always come back. And, yes, they always eat their peas. Or kohlrabi.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on October 26. Chris’s “Halloween” novel is “The Night Strangers,” published in 2011.)


Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.