Just like Marnie in the book, my first taste of a cheesecake blew me away. It sounded revolting because cheese and cake did not go together in my head. But the Green’s Cheesecake advert on the TV (incidentally I can still remember all the words to the song) intrigued me. The great dessert you don’t have to bake.

Milly Johnson by Charlotte Murphy

Milly Johnson by Charlotte Murphy

Baking was always done next door at Auntie Bella’s. She and Uncle George were no relation but they had no children of her own so I had an open invitation to visit whenever I wanted. They were a lovely old couple with plenty of spare time. They’d take me to the park or to the seaside or play cards and Ludo and they’d unfold their huge dining table so we could all do a jigsaw together. They attended the local Baptist church and I went with them to Sunday School which was a joy because it was full of the sweetest people. The church held a lot of events, fairs and picnics - which presented Auntie Bella with many home-baking opportunities. She loved to bake, but she herself was diabetic and Uncle George had health problems and had to watch his diet, so she baked for other people. And Thursdays was her big baking day.

She bought me a toy baking set so I could sit on one end of her kitchen table with a lump of pastry and follow her lead – but in miniature. I can still conjure up that sense of pride that my tiny scones had risen and I used to eat them fresh from the oven with Echo margarine slathered on them. We made cheese straws and seed cakes, custard cream biscuits, butter-cream sandwiches and bread, the old-fashioned way. She would put the bread tins in front of the fire and the dough would push up the cloths resting on top.

She didn’t ‘do’ mixes out of boxes, but she humoured me with the cheesecake. None of us could imagine what it would taste like, but after a respectable chilling period in her small fridge, we cut into this strange cake and the first mouthful told us all why this was such a huge hit in America.

But Auntie Bella was a home-baker and, though there was no cheesecake recipe in her bible – Bero Home Recipes – the library yielded a book on how to make a cheesecake from scratch. And we did and it was even better than Green’s.

It is thirty years since Auntie Bella died but I still make some of her old recipes and when I bake I could easily be back there in her kitchen, waiting impatiently for the oven to give up the jam tarts and the oven bottom cakes. I can still remember the day we make that first cheesecake – the queen of all cakes in my world. Auntie Bella + Scottish accent is dear Mrs McMaid with her passion for baking in the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. Auntie Bella and her baking have been waiting years in my head for the moment when they would both fit perfectly together into a story where my love of them both could shine.

The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson is published on the 12th July, price £7.99 paperback

Mrs McMaids Cheesecake Mix

‘This is the simplest and most versatile cheesecake of all. I’ve used it for years and have no doubt that it would have been the one that Mrs McMaid used (you’ll have to read The Perfectly Imperfect Woman to find out more!):

This cheesecake has a lovely thick base and is best made in a 20 cm diameter round, deep-sided tin lined with foil or greased parchment paper. I like to keep a supply of caster sugar which has been ‘vanilla-ised’ by storing it with a vanilla pod in it. I followed Mrs McMaid’s tip:

Vanilla cheesecake:

250 Digestive biscuits

100g butter

600g cream cheese

120g caster sugar

300ml double cream

1 teaspoon of top notch vanilla essence

Large vanilla pod (not essential, but adds a little extra, especially to this vanilla recipe)

1/Crush the biscuits into crumbs by putting them in a plastic bag and using a rolling pin. Or blast them in a food processor if you want the easy way.

2/Melt the butter.

3/Mix the butter and crumb thoroughly and then pour into the lined tin, pressing down with either the back of a spoon, the bottom of a glass or – my method of choice, a potato masher!

4/Put the tin in the fridge.

5/Put the cream cheese in a bowl and mix to soften it.

6/Split a vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the caviar inside.

7/Whisk the cream and sugar up together to soft peak stage. Add the vanilla caviar and the essence.

8/Fold the cream cheese into the cream until they are thoroughly combined.

9/Pour this on top of the base and refrigerate for a couple of hours.