The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

December 11, 2012

Peppermint pigs a smashing tradition in N.Y.

— SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — A holiday tradition in this upstate New York resort town has a peppermint twist: pig-shaped hard candies are sold with little metal hammers to smash them at Christmas.

The peppermint pigs, which can weigh up to a pound, are considered good luck charms by some. Family members will take turns whacking the piggy tokens of holiday cheer into little candy shards.

"We do find that some people are a little taken aback: 'What's the whole idea of the pig and the hammer? What are you doing? And is someone insulting me by giving me a pig?'" said Mike Fitzgerald, owner of Saratoga Sweets, which makes the pigs that can be the size of a big bar of bath soap.

Fitzgerald has pigs on his brain this time of year. A small crew at his shop south of Saratoga Springs in Halfmoon makes the hard candy from dawn to dark in a shop distinguished by boiling red pots of candy and an overwhelming scent of peppermint. Fitzgerald is hurrying to fill thousands of pig orders around the country.

Why pigs?

It could be related to the marzipan pigs northern European confectioners make at holiday time as good luck symbols. Fitzgerald said it's possible chefs at the old hotels in Saratoga Springs in the late 19th century couldn't easily make marzipan, so they improvised with peppermint hard candy.

In the old days, the pig was placed on the Christmas dinner table. Father would wrap it in a napkin and crack it with the steel rod used to sharpen knives so the family could share the sweet-tasting bits, Fitzgerald said. But by the mid-20th century, the area holiday tradition went the way of lit candles on Christmas trees.

In 1988, Fitzgerald made a first run of 60 peppermint pigs at the request of the local historical society. He was surprised to see people lining up to buy them, many of them older people who fondly recalled smashing pigs when they were young. He sold out his run and never looked back.

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