CLIVE BENNETT in Merrybent, near Darlington, takes us back to the art of potato storage in a pie, or clamp.

Clive comes from a farming family, as shown by the pictures in his archive from the Richardson family’s farm at Eston, near Middlesbrough, and he trained to be a farmer in the early 1960s when he was involved in building a potato pie on the outskirts of Darlington.

The potatoes were dug and immediately heaped into the shape of an upturned pie. Then a layer of long wheat straw was laid on top of them and they were left for about three weeks “so the heat of the potatoes could escape and they didn’t sweat in the pie”, says Clive.

Then a layer of soil was neatly patted over the pie. It was nine inches thick at the bottom, to keep the rats out, and about four inches thick at the top.

In such a state, the potatoes were left, safe from frost and rodents, until they could be sold.

But the winter of 1962, was severe. The soil froze solid for weeks. “We had to get crowbars and pickaxes at it to get in to the potatoes,” says Clive. “What a chew on that was.”

There were two men breaking open the frozen pie. Another two men used sippets to shovel the potatoes into a petrol-engined riddle.

That’s the first time the word “sippet” has graced this column. A sippet, we believe, is a large fork with blunted tines – or prongs – although the reason it doesn’t come up with a squiggly red line beneath it on our spellcheck is because the Oxford English Dictionary reckons a sippet is a small piece of toasted or fried bread served with broth.

A riddle, of course, was a revolving mesh drum which knocked the soil off the potatoes and sorted them by size. The smaller spuds dropped through for cattle or pig feed, while the larger ones were put into sacks for human consumption.

One man was needed to oversee the riddle, and another two men were needed to handle the eight stone bags, so it was an intensive operation.

“1962 was such a hard winter, minus 12 or minus 15,” says Clive. “It went on for three months until the end of March, and because not many people bothered to open their pies, the price of potatoes trebled, and that’s what kept us going. Potatoes were like gold!”