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SARATOGA: Candy pigs ring in the new year with a crack

In the fast-paced age of the Internet, video games and cellular phones, a 120-year-old Saratoga County holiday tradition is geared at getting people to just talk to each other.

Traditionally, the Peppermint Pig -- a pink chunk of hard-rock candy in the shape of a pig -- is passed around after the holiday dinner, with each loved one taking a whack at it with a small hammer, and then sharing something good that happened to them over the past year.

Rather than get up from the table and go play with an Xbox or something like that, everyone lingers a little longer and talks about good things, said Saratoga Sweets proprietor Mike Fitzgerald, who brought back the Peppermint Pig in 1988 after a nearly 50-year hiatus. "It provides a certain amount of closure to the holiday season, but a nice, family closure."

The history of the Peppermint Pig in Saratoga County is a puzzle, Fitzgerald said. When candy shops were a thriving neighborhood businesses, all the old candy makers used to make Peppermint Pigs. But as near as Fitzgerald can tell, the idea's originator was a Saratoga candy maker named Jim Mingay " who died 30 years to the day before Fitzgerald was born.

"Everyone said 'Oh, my God, the reincarnation of the pig man.' I would be honored to be that," Fitzgerald said.

As time went by, one by one, the old candy makers in Saratoga County retired or died, and during World War II the government rationed sugar, making candy making all the more difficult. Sometime along the line, nobody is sure exactly when, Peppermint Pigs were no longer being made.

That changed in 1988 when the Saratoga County Historical Society approached Fitzgerald, who left the restaurant business to try his hand at candy, to see if he would be interested.

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