Though Saratoga Springs may be best known for its horses, come Christmastime, it’s all about the pigs. Peppermint Pigs, to be exact. Known for their small size and vibrant pink color, the minty, pig-shaped sweets hold in their tiny bodies the weight of a holiday tradition dating back to Victorian times. As the tradition went, after Christmas dinner, a candy pig was placed in a velveteen bag and passed from person to person, each of whom would share a moment of good fortune from the previous year, then whack the pig-filled pouch with a tiny hammer.
But why a pig, instead of, say, a reindeer, or even a horse? Feeling pressure from European chefs who worked in the glamourous Saratoga hotels of the 1880s, local candy-maker Jim Mangay wanted to make a holiday treat that could function as a substitute for the highly sought-after, but difficult to find, marzipan treats. Mangay improvised, using peppermint oil, and likely chose the pig because of its significance in the era as a symbol of prosperity. Fast forward through the sugar-rationing era of World War II—when the beloved confection nearly disappeared—to 1988, the year Saratoga Sweets’ candy-maker, Mike Fitzgerald, decided to revive the tradition. (The shop’s now called Saratoga Candy Co.) After a series of fortunate events led one of the original Peppermint Pig molds into Fitzgerald’s hands, he launched production again—and the Saratoga tradition has been going strong ever since, even making its way beyond the Capital Region.
Annually, more than 130,000 Peppermint Pigs are produced in Saratoga by Fitzgerald’s team, and the sweets are also available online and in some 200 museum shops and retail stores, primarily in the eastern US. I think it’s safe to say that this little piggy has gone far, far beyond the market.