For 10 years, Frances Pendergrass and Diane Asbill dodged the question, “When are you going to write a cookbook?” Best known in the 1980s by their brand, The Bread Lady, the Chapel Hill duo was too busy baking cakes, breads, cookies, jams, and jellies and selling them at craft shows and farmers markets to take the time to put their families’ favorite recipes in writing.

That excuse evaporated in 1997 with a single phone call. Asbill learned her aunt Kathryn needed a liver transplant. Insurance would pay for the surgery, but doctors advised the family to launch a fund-raiser to help cover the high cost of antirejection medications.

Six weeks later, Pendergrass and Asbill released From the Heart of Our Kitchen: Cooking with The Bread Lady and Friends, a collection of 960 recipes, many of them well known to the pair’s customers, such as Asbill’s mom’s recipe for coconut cake. Many more came from family, friends, fellow church members, and co-workers.

“We spread the word to everyone we knew — ‘This is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,’” Asbill says. The response was overwhelming. “The purpose of this book touched people’s hearts.”

Especially Aunt Kathryn. Fourteen years and more than 4,500 cookbooks later, she’s still grateful.

“I thank everyone involved from the bottom of my heart,” she says. “I want them to know how much I love them for what they’ve done.”

The Bread Lady, which was a second source of income for Pendergrass and Asbill, is no longer in business. Pendergrass, who is Asbill’s aunt by marriage, retired, and Asbill went back to work full-time when her children got older. But the cookbook, which is still available, continues to keep local kitchens filled with the enticing aromas of their treasured recipes.

Coconut Cake


  • 2 (8-ounce) cartons sour cream
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (6-ounce) package frozen coconut, thawed

Mix above ingredients. Cover, and store in refrigerator for 24 hours.


Prepare 2 layers using Duncan Hines Yellow Cake mix. When cool, divide the layers, making 4 layers. Stack, spreading filling on top of each layer, including the top layer.


  • ½ pint sweetened whipped cream
  • 1 (6-ounce) package frozen coconut, thawed

Frost sides and top with sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with coconut. Cover finished cake with foil, and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving. The filling will be juicy, but that’s OK.

— Janet Truckner

From the Heart of Our Kitchen

In addition to 392 pages of family recipes, From the Heart of Our Kitchen has several special sections including “For Those Who Don’t Cook,” “Around the Campfire,” and “Restaurants and Bed & Breakfasts,” offering recipes from several professional kitchens in the Piedmont and Wilmington. To order a copy, contact Janet Truckner at (919) 688-7588 or

Diane Summerville is the senior editor of Our State magazine.

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