Mike Fitzgerald loves Christmaseverything about itwhich is lucky for him, since he gets a start on the holiday season in August.
Fitzgerald is the owner of Saratoga Sweets, the Halfmoon-based candy shop perhaps best known for producing the only traditional peppermint pigs in the world. Sporting a Santa hat everyday from August to New Year's Eve, with Christmas tunes blaring throughout the small kitchen called the "Pig Pen," he spends all day, every day, cooking up the sweet, minty and historical treats.
"The best we can make in a day is 1,000, but those days are few and far between. If we can get 400 to 500, we're happy," said Fitzgerald, rapidly stirring a liquid version of the candy pig in a bright red tea kettle. "This year, we'll make 130,000 pigs."
Back in 1988, when Saratoga Sweets first opened in Saratoga Springs, the historical society approached the candy shop about making peppermint pigs. The tradition of passing one around after Christmas dinner and whacking it with a hammer after reflecting on something good that happened throughout the year had died with the city's last candy maker in the '30s.
Fitzgerald made around 60 pigs that first year, which turned out to be far too little for the throngs of older Saratoga residents who showed up at the shop's doorstep on Christmas Eve.
"One older gentleman came in holding a little hand, his grandson, and said the last time he'd gotten a pig he was the little hand," said Fitzgerald. "It was really rewarding and nice. With all due respect to Saratoga, my wife and I thought we were off to the races and every year we expand what we do."
Saratoga Sweets moved to its Halfmoon location on Route 9, and after creating molds specifically crafted to mirror the original peppermint pigs from the late 1800s, Fitzgerald found the perfect recipe and process to create the one-of-a-kind candy glass. The trick to making it shatter? A high sugar content. And, the ability to break it apart isn't the only thing that sets the pigs apart from other hard candy.