It's as much as part of Thanksgiving weekend as family, friends and football. On the Western New York autumnal table, it ranks up there with pumpkin and potatoes.
Who among us has not consumed gallons of Mayer Bros. cider?
When it comes to our spirit of gratitude and togetherness, the apple is at the core. And our Big Apple is Mayer Bros., the legendary cider maker in West Seneca. Lines for the tiny Mayer Bros' country store are known to stretch down the block to St. Paul's Lutheran Cemetery.
Mayer Bros. churns out cider all year long. But the store closes for the season on Nov. 30 after one last-hurrah go-round of pie and doughnut making. That means we have almost one more week to make our visit.
Or should we say, pilgrimage.
It was more than 150 years ago that an enterprising German-American named Jacob Mayer bought, from the Ebenezer Society, the land where he built a cider mill. From this tiny seed, sown in 1852, a mighty empire grew. Run by the fifth generation of Mayers, it ranks among New York State's oldest businesses.
The store, which incorporates Mayer's original building, now adjoins a massive facility where cider is made and processed. Huge trucks pull in every day from apple-rich Niagara and Wayne counties, dispensing loads of fruit.
The smell of success really is sweet.
Inside the country store, it washes over you like a wave. It's an aroma of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, sugar. It emanates from the bustling little kitchen, which sits in the oldest part of the building, the part that once housed Jacob Mayer's cider press. Glimpsing the kitchen from the checkout counter, you can see the bakers at work.
Three days before Thanksgiving, employees were shoveling pies in and out of ovens as ancient equipment banged and whirred. Tables were piled with pies, including the company's signature apple pie — a mile high, obscenely rich and topped with caramel and apple slices.
The pies didn't cool fast enough in this heated environment, so staffers were taking them outside, where a soft snow had begun to fall.
"No more orders for ANY PIES until further notice!! Thank you," read one notice from management, clearly scrawled in haste.
Some customers, hoping for Thanksgiving pies, had to be regretfully refused. Janice Jones, of East Aurora, was one of the lucky ones.
"Last year, when I came here, there were no pies," she said. "This time I'm coming early." She thanked heaven for her score, a fragrant apple pie. It wasn't the mile-high variety but it was fragrant and irresistible.
"The angels are watching over me with this pie," she said.
Jones was going to Thanksgiving at her daughter's house in Buffalo's University Heights district. But the pie wasn't going along.
"My husband and I are going to hoard this for ourselves," she gloated.
Being pie-less at Mayer's is not a bad fate. It simply means you have to settle for a different treat. A turnover, maybe. Or a fruit stick, a cylindrical pastry latticed with white icing.
Doughnuts are a hot seller — and always have been, judging from the sign reading "Doughnut Shoppe."
Employees were boxing up a bundle for Debbie Belote, of Lancaster.
"My son's coming home from college," Belote said. "He wants apple glazed."
Candy apples. Cider slushies make a great chaser for the big Thanksgiving meal. Slurp them unashamedly. They're so sweet and good. So are the other Western New York delicacies that pack the store. Crystal Beach suckers and sugar waffles. Polish confections from Chrusciki. Local honey, maple syrup, jams ... they're all here, lining the narrow aisles.
The cider is packed into a cooler, in gallons, half-gallons and various other sizes including a cute little single-serve carton. One customer we saw grabbed four gallons.
Can't make it out there before the store shuts for the season? Not to fret. You'll continue to find Mayer Bros. cider somewhere near you. You'll also want to sample the wares of other cider makers and purveyors of hard cider, all following in Jacob Mayer's footsteps.
Plus, there's always next year.
In the Mayer family, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Joy Kicinski, general manager, said that recently, 9-year-old Levi Mayer, the son of current president Garrett Mayer, was in the store helping out.
"She was boxing up doughnuts and pouring slushies," Kicinski laughed. "We said, 'We're getting you ready, Levi.' It was so cute.
"He's got four kids. So we're hoping to carry on the tradition."
Story topics: Mayer Bros