Arriver un pépin


We are in the midst of grape harvesting in our region at the moment, les vendanges. You can see the people with their trucks and machines along the little country roads, and there are signs warning you to be wary.

I am more than happy to oblige. It seems that this vital activity is always on the verge of a crisis – whether from hail or poor weather conditions, pests or other pépins.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post. The seed that is found inside the grape, along with other fruits like apples, is called le pépin. For reasons that I have not been able to elucidate, this tiny seed or pip is associated with trouble.

To encounter un pépin means to run into a problem of some sort along the way. Readers of this blog will have gathered by now that such things occur not infrequently in France. So although I do not know the etymology of the expression, I can easily imagine how the pip could be associated with trouble and strife.

Eating fruit, for example. Personally, I would much rather drink grapes than eat them. But for those who are amorous of the grape itself, running into pips can be problematic. Do you spit them out? And then there’s wine making. Perhaps the grape seeds themselves are not good for the wine? Something to do with the tannins?

On the other hand, I have recently learned that grape seed oil is a healthful choice for cooking as it has a relatively high smoke point, is full of antioxidants and promotes good cholesterol. And according to this source, you should chew and swallow the seeds as they are healthy for you.

My dear late mother was a source of many wonderful things, not the least of which were her expressions. “She gives me the pip” was one of my favourites.

Pépin le Bref was also the name of a king, the father of Charlemagne. I am useless with history, however, and will leave further explorations of his rather fascinating name to those more qualified.

Will 2016 be a good year? It is hard to say. The summer was slow to start but hot and dry for a good long while. In any case, we’ll find out before long. The first young wines will be out in November.

Until then, may you stay clear of les pépins!




  1. francetaste · October 6, 2016

    A pépin is a little problem (small like the pip), something unexpected and disagreeable, like biting into a seed in a grape.

    • MELewis · October 6, 2016

      I think you’ve got it! Not sure why it should be so unexpected though…surely grapes are meant to have seeds? Just like life its ‘pépins’. #FeelingPhilosophical

      • francetaste · October 6, 2016

        Well, sometimes you pick them out (the seeds) but then you still chomp down on one….One really could get philosophical about this!

  2. moulindelaroche · October 6, 2016

    My Mum used to use the same phrase! She also used to say “That takes the pip!” meaning “That tops the lot”.

    • MELewis · October 6, 2016

      Glad to hear this resonated. I wonder if my kids will remember my silly expressions? Probably just the cursing, alas… 😉

  3. Osyth · October 6, 2016

    Yes, my grandmother and all her daughters including my mother talk about ‘getting the pip’ which means being down in the dumps or dispirited. I just looked it up and apparently it comes from a type of avian flu commonly found in domestic chickens that was called ‘Pipe’ and somehow became ‘Pip’. I will be passing the advice about chewing the seeds along to my husband’s colleague who has vines in his garden and has been busy making jelly for the winter and wondered about the glut of pips it had produced. I’m sure he and his family will pass many happy hours chewing them or pressing them for oil!

    • MELewis · October 8, 2016

      How fascinating to learn the origin of that expression! I can think of a few people who definitely give me the avian flu! 😉 You are a source of both inspiration and information as ever, Osyth! Chew away!

      • Osyth · October 9, 2016

        So long as I don’t give you the pip or vice-versa we are hunky dory as my mother would say!

      • MELewis · October 10, 2016

        Mais jamais! xx

  4. Katherine Wikoff · October 6, 2016

    Fascinating! I never knew there were such cultural/linguistic associations with these seeds. That makes me think in a new way now about “The Five Orange Pips” Sherlock Holmes story😄

    • MELewis · October 8, 2016

      Do not know that one – sounds intriguing! There are so many fascinating French expressions, I will share more soon!

  5. zipfslaw1 · October 13, 2016

    What an excellent expression–thanks!

    According to Robert Cole’s “A traveller’s history of Paris,” Pepin was the son of Charles Martel, “Charles the Hammer.” If I am understanding what I have in front of me correctly, he was the manager of the royal estates for Thierry IV, and although he was a high-ranking member of the aristocracy, he doesn’t seem to have been a king, per se. (Wikipedia isn’t helpful with clearing up my uncertainty about this, either.) He drove back the Arab invaders at the battle of Tours in 732.

    I can’t add anything to the question of where the name came from. It was Pepin’s grandfather’s name, too, and ultimately the name of the dynasty, but as to where the name came from: silence from Wikipedia. Some relevant extracts:

    “The Pippinids or Arnulfings are the members of a family of Frankish nobles in the Pippinid dynasty. Their select scions served as Mayor of the Palace, de facto rulers, of the Frankish kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia that were nominally ruled by the Merovingians.”

    “The dynasty is usually considered to have been founded by Saint Arnulf, bishop of Metz in the early seventh century, who wielded a great deal of power and influence in the Merovingian kingdoms.

    His son Ansegisel married Saint Begga, the daughter of Pepin of Landen, and their son was Pepin of Heristal. It is from Pepin’s grandfathers that the dynasty receives its earlier (pre-Martel) names: Arnulfing or Pippinid.”

    I always love your posts–thank you again!

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