Every Halloween it’s the Butterfingers, Baby Ruths, and all manner of chocolate bars that rule most neighborhoods. But on Pine street in Vineyard Haven, it’s the sugary scent of doughnuts wafting from Hilda Backus’s kitchen that beckons trick-or-treaters.

Hilda Backus will turn 90 in November, and she’s been making doughnuts on Halloween for 40 years, since she first started with her mother in law, Anna C. Backus. Hilda no longer remembers how the tradition began, but her eldest daughter Carol Osborn has a theory, remembering how in her youth, before the doughnut days, their house was hardly ever visited. It had a long line of tall, daunting trees that gave it a spooky air.

“Everyone was afraid to come to our house,” Carol recalled. Now it’s one of the most popular houses on the block.

The recipe, handed down through the ages. — Mark Lovewell

The house is located at Rod’s Flower Shop and Nursery, not too far away from the William street Halloween extravaganza. Rod is Rod Backus, Hilda’s former husband, who died in 2006.

Prep for the big day is a family affair and begins mid-week. Hilda prepares the dough in her small kitchen, with Carol adding sugar to the mixing bowl and counting the scoops out loud. This is Carol’s first year helping her mother make the dough. They triple an old recipe and then complete that recipe three times so they will have enough batter to make all the doughnuts. After being mixed, the dough is stored in the fridge until Halloween evening when it is cut, fried and served fresh to trick-or-treaters.

“We look forward to the kids,” Hilda said. “Seeing what they wear, their costumes.”

On Halloween, Carol rushes home from work to help her mother prepare for the onslaught of children, teenagers and adults.

“When I walk in the door from work, I grab my apron and go over to my mother’s and start cooking,” Carol said. “Because I know the kids are coming.”

As the night gets rocking and rolling they can’t keep their door shut for long. “It’s just so crowded the door is constantly open, but that’s a relief because with all the people, it’s pretty warm in there,” Carol said. Her sister, Rhonda Backus, also helps in the kitchen.

To light the way for kids and counterbalance the imposing trees, Carol’s husband, Jim, strings paper lanterns along the walkway and puts out jack-o’-lanterns. In the kitchen, the doughnut makers usually aren’t in costume, but Hilda has been known to put on a long wig or colorful mustache.

Some who come for a doughnut are no longer children, having grown up to be parents bringing their own kids now and following the scent of a childhood memory. Second generation trick-or-treaters are always a highlight for the family.

Each year, crowds of kids head to Pine street in Vineyard Haven for doughnuts. — Mark Lovewell

Hilda is also looking forward to having her third daughter Patricia Chaudhuri and her family, who spend most of their time off-Island, witness the scene this year.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Hilda said. “I think they’ll be surprised to see the number of people who come.”

Though they have never been able to keep an exact count, they estimate between 200 and 300 kids come through the door, and doughnuts remain in production until about 8:30 p.m. Last year, Carol was in charge of cutting out the doughnuts, and she remembers standing for more than three hours.

“I was glad at the end to be able to sit down,” she said. But aching feet are worth it, both to witness the kids’ smiling faces and to carry on a family tradition. Hilda was born on the Island, and moved to her current house when she married Rod in 1947. Her four children all own homes close by.

“All my children live on the property,” Hilda said. “I have the whole family.”

Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren also come by to visit before heading out on their own candy runs, making the kitchen a family affair. Carol said she plans to continue the doughnut tradition as long as she can after her mother hands over the reins. Eventually she hopes to pass it along to her son, Jeremy Osborn.

“I think because Mom’s getting older and older, she’s a little like, how are we going to do this,” Carol said. “All of us kids are ready to jump in and help out.”

For doughnuts this Halloween, head over to Pine street in Vineyard Haven, turn up the path next to the Rod’s Flower Shop, and then follow your nose.