"It's been a pig race ever since. This year we'll make about 130,000 pigs," he said.
As Fitzgerald spoke, workers stirred bubbling tea pots filled with a Pepto-pink mix of sugar and corn syrup. The candy mix is hand-poured into cast aluminum molds to make one of three pigs: Holly (3 ounces and 3 1/2-inches long), Noel (a half pound and 5 1/2 inches) or the big man, Clarence (1 pound and 6 inches).
The hardened pigs have a shiny, glassy quality other hard candies with a higher corn syrup content lack. A quick strike by Fitzgerald's hammer shattered a pig.
"It has to break like glass," Fitzgerald said with satisfaction.
It's not as though sales of candy canes — more than 1.8 billion are made a year — are being threatened. But the pigs are a popular item in gift stores in Saratoga Springs and other retailers, dressed in red velvet bags with a shiny, silver hammer. (Once you get the hammer, you can order a refill without one.)
"Thanksgiving sort of kicks it off and from here on in, it gets crazy," said Marianne Barker of Impressions of Saratoga.
And the pigs have extended beyond their upstate New York habitat through online sales and catalogs. In Georgia, Lynn Barlow bought a pig on a lark in 1997 and shared it with her family on Christmas. A good luck streak followed that included a raise for her husband, one son bagging the biggest buck of his life and another son's team winning a basketball tournament.
The White, Ga., resident said pigs have been passed around at the holiday table ever since, now with grandchildren taking a turn with the hammer.
"My husband hits it first," Barlow said, "and then the peppermint is hard, so we usually go around the table twice just because the kids enjoy doing it so much."