IN last Tuesday’s paper, a selection of old photos included this one, sent in by Gillian Crawford. Her father, Jack, had taken it at Brusselton Farm, near Bishop Auckland, in the 1950s. He had typed on the rear: “Potato Pie! Storing the potato harvest. Scenes like this are to be found all over Britain at this time of year.”

Tim Brown of Ferryhill says that the potato pie, which was also known as a potato clamp, gets its name because its shape is the same as a pie when it is upturned on a plate.

“Before the mechanical harvesting of potatoes, they were collected manually, often during the October “Tattie Picking” school holidays, when local children would be recruited to augment the farm staff for the backbreaking job,” he says.

“The first step in creating the potato pie was to lay a bed of wheat straw to create insulation and avoid moisture spoiling the crop. When tipped from the cart, potatoes form a natural pyramid. Successive cart loads were placed along the line of the pie.

“On completion, the potatoes were shaped into an even pie, as depicted in the photograph.

“The pie was then thatched with a further covering of wheat straw. A drainage trench was dug around the perimeter of the pie and the turfs from it were used to hold the straw in place.”

The art of the potato pie was the subject of Dig for Victory Leaflet No 13, produced by the British government during the Second World War, and TH Knox of Great Ayton remembers creating them in his youth.

“This natural means of potato storage kept the crop until May/June the following year when, hopefully, scarcity allowed it to command higher market prices,” says Mr Knox, who also remembers making carrot and beetroot pies in the same fashion.

“Agricultural practices have moved on and seedsmen have bred cereal crops that are higher yielding but smaller in height, so the old practice of strawing potato pies could not be followed today – the straw is far from straight after it has been through a combine harvester.”

Tim is also interested in the farm worker in the foreground. “He appears to be a German infantry style forage cap,” says Tim. “Was he an ex-Prisoner of War, who hadn’t returned home, or a Displaced Person or refugee?”