le mariage civil + noce + the French are softies when it comes to weddings
Pastèque: Easy Fruit Salad Recipe

How to say wasp in French... and the fascinating life inside a figue!

Kristin Espinasse with Smokey, Fig tree, Olive Grove, boules or petanque court (c) Jules Greer
"Ignorance is Bliss." Remember this photo from last September? Back then, while eating my way from one end of this fig tree to the other, I had no idea there was more to a fig than meets the eye.... 

une guêpe (gep)

    : wasp

Terms, Expressions, and an example sentence:

la taille de guêpe = slender-waisted, hourglass figure
le nid de guêpe = hornet's nest 

Pour éviter les piqures de guêpes, un vieux truc [ou astuce] de viticulteurs: pincer le bout de la langue entre les dents tant que l'insecte menace. Cela créée une légère tension corporelle qui le gêne, s'il vient à se poser sur la peau.

To avoid wasp stings, an old tip [or trick] from winegrowers: pinch the tip of your tongue between your teeth for as long as the insect threatens. This creates a light corporal tension that bothers [the wasps], if they come to land on the skin. (that story here...)

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Figs and the Fascinating Life of a Lilliputian Wasp

Last night I heard a curious sound coming from outside the bedroom window. Toc, toc, toc.... Was it a thief?

My heart fluttered as I tuned into the strange noise. I listened to the intermittent thumping and shuffling, wondering what in the world? Was it a wild animal?

My mind reeled with possibilities, eventually settling on the least spooky conclusion: falling figs! I remembered back a day or two ago when playing fetch with Smokey. As he retrieved his stick, over by the boules court, I saw a scattering of figs lying there on the ground.

Next I noticed the ping pong table. It too was covered with figs.... I recalled the rumbling sky and the burst of rain we'd had the day before. The figs must have been knocked from the tree.

Allez. Pousse-toi, Smokey! Va là-bas, BraiseLike looters who appear on the scene, our dogs rushed up to the fallen goods, attempting to cash in on the catastrophe. 

I reached down to pick up a fig and saw it was too young to salvage. But then, could one eat an unripe fruit? It was a question I'd often wondered about. Such a pity all these figs might be destined for the compost pile, instead of our plates--in the form of tarte à la figue or figues farcies au fromage bleu or "figues tout court"!

Impatient to know the answer I tore open one of the figs. Instead of the usual raspberry color with lovely star-burst yellow accents, this one was pasty white inside. 

As I stood frowning into the fig my eyes caught on something... something wiggling! Dropping the fig I wondered, Was that a worm I just saw?

I walked over to the ping pong table and picked up another fig. Splitting it open I searched the interior until--wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!--I found what I was looking for. Beurk! C'est dégoûtant!

Any disgust was soon replaced by curiosity. The little fig in my hand was teeming with life. But how had the wiggly vers gotten there? Turning the fig round and round, I could find no port of entry....

An internet search ("worms in figs") opened up a fascinating new world--in which two living things come into being by the grace of the other--a process called mutualism. But how is this possible and which came first--the chicken or the egg (or the fig or the wasp?). 

Quit sait? Meantime what is known is this: because of the location of the fig's flowers (inside the fig), to pollinate it a female wasp has to enter the fig through a tiny hole in its base. It takes a very small wasp to do this, hence its moniker "la guêpe liliputienne". 

Once inside, the female deposits pollen and lays her eggs, which soon hatch. After the pupal stage, male wasps quickly find their way over to young females--and mate! Next, ever energetic, the males forge an escape route for the females (remember, everyone is still trapped inside the fig!). But all that gusto soon goes broke. The machos die at or near the sortie de secours and only the females make it out alive.

As the females crawl out of the fig, their little legs collect the pollen distributed by the first wasp.... Exiting, finally, the fig they salute their fallen heroes (OK, this part's made up) and, without missing a beat, make their way over to the nearest fig and into a little hole there at the base. Next the whole extraordinary cycle repeats itself!

As I said, some of the males--and those females who've lost their wings on the voyage out, die sur le chemin...   These unlucky ones remain there, fallen heroines and heroes, trapped inside the fig which then grows and ripens around them--like a sweet tomb.

At this point you may be wondering, like I was, whether or not to give up your addiction to figs? Could you overlook this wiggly fact and bite into the luscious fruit with the same wild abandon?

(Relax, nature cleans up the gory mess....)

Better than a sci-fi movie, the mutant fig eventually (and completely) consumes the unlucky wasps--this with the help of alchemy! ASU's Ask A Biologist column explains the process:

Figs produce a chemical called “ficin” that breaks down the wasp bodies. Ficin is so effective at breaking down, or digesting, animal proteins that natives of Central America eat fig sap to treat intestinal worm infections.

The article goes on to say that the rumor some of us once heard (about fig newtons containing crushed insects) is false. As for the figs on the trees, it all depends....

Recently, I watched my friend Isa reach for one of our figs while admiring our fig tree. Je les adore! She cooed, about to pop one of the fruits into her mouth.

Noticing the figs weren't ripe yet, I yanked the fruit out of her hand. 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you...."


To leave a comment, click here -- or share your favorite fig recipe (and assure me that you are no namby-pamby--that you won't let some lusty wasps keep you from enjoying this fascinating fruit!). 

French Vocab

toc-toc-toc = knock-knock-knock
allez = come on
pousse-toi = move it!
va là-bas! = go over there!
la tarte aux figues = fig pie, fig tart 
figues farcies au fromage bleu = figs stuffed with blue cheese
figues tout court = simply figs (figs full stop) 
beurk = yuck!
c'est dégoûtant = that's disgusting
un ver = worm 
qui sait? = who knows
sur le chemin = along the road
la sortie de secours = emergency exit 

Kristi and Chief Grape - Painting by Dana Constance Thomas
Kristi and Chief Grape. (We moved from the Ste Cécile vineyard, Domaine Rouge-Bleu, almost one year ago, but Jean-Marc will always be the grape chief. Meantime he's getting ready to plant his next vineyard). Painting by Dana Constance Thomas. At Dana's blog, you will find the interview we did together about what inspires me... and the answer to this question : If  Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?. I had a lot of fun answering that one. Don't miss the interview, here

sunflowers old french farmhouse mas in st cyr-sur-mer france
I planted sunflower seeds sprouts last fall -- and forgot about them. Those are radish pods. Having fun in the garden -- hope you are having fun there, or elsewhere. Enjoy your day.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I think I would think twice about eating a fig now that I've heard what goes on inside. I guess the fig enzymes dissolve the wasp? Nature is so cool! We experienced the 17 year cicadas here this summer and I wondered about their life cycle too. Live in the ground for 17 years, exit the ground, mate and then die? What? What is the use! haha
I would like God to say "Entrez vous, s'il vous plait." Or would I hope he knows me and use the familiar form? Or would he say, sorry take the escalator down?

Julie Farrar

Thanks for this fascinating biology lesson. When we moved into our current house we had a forest of fig bushes/trees. It was out of control and I knew nothing about figs, how to tend, what to do after ripe, etc. The spot could be a great location for my flower beds so I ripped out the figs. My husband and all the neighbors who used to pick figs as they walked by were ticked off. I tried to make it up to them by making a colorful garden for all the passers-by. They eventually came to appreciate the colors and scents I created alongside the sidewalk.


Yes, I know about the wasps and the figs (a variation of the "birds and the bees"?) We have a fig tree that gives us the sweetest figs, and I have no trouble eating them as long as they're cooked. I seem to have a slight allergy to raw figs. I have a great recipe for fig-banana-pistachio bread. I'll see if I can find it and post it here. One year we made wine out of the windfall of figs. Impossible to eat them all! We still have figs in the freezer from last year. I give lots of them away to friends.


In the meantime, here's a fig bar recipe:
Vegan Fig Bars (Vegan, can be GF, soy free)

Makes 9

For the fig filling:

About 12 large figs
6 pitted medjool dates
1 tbsp brown rice syrup
2 tbsp lemon juice (or the juice of 1 large lemon)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped

For the oat dough:

1 1/4 cup oat flour (GF if following a GF diet)
1 cup rolled oats (see above)
2 tsps cinnamon

Dash sea salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp brown rice syrup

1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup safflower oil

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8 inch square baking pan and dust it with oat flour.

2) Place figs in a food processor along with dates, lemon juice, syrup, cinnamon. Process until the mixture resembles a smooth fig jam. Pulse in the nuts quickly.

3) Try not to eat all of said jam before you make your bars. You will be tempted. Very tempted.

Patty Austin

You help us learn something new--all of the time. I have to say I love fig newtons but have never had a fresh fig, it is now on the bucket list : ) Also, I am so glad you made use of the ASU Ask a Biologist, way cool. Hopefully it is not hazy, hot and humid in France like it is in Wash. DC USA...

Kristin Espinasse

Ping! Did anybody hear a pin drop? I am afraid I may have grossed you out with my fig story -- and I would like to insist on the fact that figs are perfectly fine to eat when ripe--no wasps whatsoever! Personally, I have grand plans for all the figs left on that tree (hopefully theyll quit falling!) and I thank you for your recipe, Jolley! I will try to remember mine -- for the fig tart -- and post it. Meantime it is simple: half figs. Put them on a store bought pie shell. Drizzle honey over figs. Bake. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (if you happen to have any!)

P.S. Patty - just saw your note. So happy to know you've put fresh figs on your bucket list. Yay!


OK, for the non-vegan/non GF people, here's the best recipe:


3 ripe bananas (the riper, the better)
2 eggs
4 oz. Butter (or) 2.75 oz. Nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew)
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1.5 cup sugar (or) 2/3 cup honey (I use honey)
1.5 cup flour (whole wheat is best)
1 tsp. Baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pistachios moistened by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit till cool, then drain, as per another recipe I have)
1 cup chopped fresh figs
Olive Oil for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 375 F

Mix liquid/squishy stuff in a big bowl.
Sift dry ingredients into the liquid mixture.
Fold in nuts and figs
Pour into an olive oil greased pan (8” x 4.5” or approx.)
Bake for 1 hour. If not done, cover with parchment (to prevent burning) and continue baking.

Jeanne Govert

Love all the recipes for figs but they are not so prevelant here in Ohio! And how do you know a ripe fig? Would hate to interrupt the cycle by breaking in too early. Love this new knowlege - can't wait to share this gem at a dinner party soo!!

Heather in Arles

Eeee. I might be a namby pamby!!! I can't help it! Sigh. Will try to deal because "Tante Yetta"'s fig compote at the Arles market is pretty awesome...I do however no longer eat morels since my friend Jennifer at the Gustia blog (do you know her? She seems like your cup of tea and is Aidan Larson-like nice) called them "bug motels." :(

And I hate to break it to Patty but it IS hazy, hot and humid--at least here in Arles!!! Hope you are cooler in Bandol, Kristin et Bon Weekend!


I've never cared for figs and now I think I won't try to cultivate the taste! Speaking of insects in cookies, when I was a child in England, Garibaldi biscuits were commonly known as squashed fly biscuits.

Kristin Espinasse

LOL, Heather, I did read about the mushrooms. Thanks for the Gustia blog info - off to visit Jennifers site! Happy weekend to all.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Wow! I never knew all that about figs! They are well acclimated to the Arizona climate, but I’m not familiar with any orchards in the Phoenix area. It maybe too hot in the desert areas…..It hit 119 degrees here last week!

Since I’m so old. . . When the good Lord greets me, after a “shake and howdy”, he’ll probably say something like, “Where the heck have you been, Partner?” or maybe “What took you so long?

À bientôt


Chris Allin

What could be more like heaven on earth than fig trees, olive trees and grape vines, a vegetable garden (artichokes..yolo) and wild flowers, all breathing to the beat of a dog's gently wagging tail and kissed by a soft sea breeze? The wasps don't even seem that threatening!
It speaks out... Come in and peace be with you.

This must come to you through much hard work so even better must be the reward.

Artichokes in the garden are a memory from a former life in France. Today I must visit Whole Foods for gorgeous artichokes and seasonal fresh figs....

Ah..to live in France!

Odile   CA

super, l'histoire des figues aux asticots!

asticots= maggots vers= worms

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

I love this story ---- I didn't know this about figs. What a wonder! I love Mother Nature ---- very smart!

Stay well!



I am overwhelmed with joy from your post today...so many thoughts ignited by your observations of life. You have hit your stride in sharing your intermost thoughts with all of your precious friends. To open up and share how your feelings come to surface is a giant step in the journey of your writing. As I have nagged you for years - RESEARCH is the key to a memorable story, and what a joy research of all that catches our attention in life, and then to have the gift of communication, and the will to share (the courage to share) is the key to reaping the rewards of your toil into the center of life...and the center of your writing.

I am so proud of you Honey - I have so many thoughts just for you this morning - I wish I had your command of the art of communication, but I guess that is my reward for all of the @#%!# you reaked in my life as a 10 year old. Just kidding, but i am always wisked back to that moment in time in our little kitchen when you would sit at the table and rattle on and on about your adventures in the desert behind our house...remember when I put a tape recorder in front of you and said, "Honey, just tell your stories here."

You are now my #1 storyteller....all of my love always to you Darling.



Dana C Thomas

So this fascinates me in a wholly deeper way. Metaphysically the wasp is the master architect, a symbol of fertility, productivity, of evolution. That fact it is literally absorbed into the fig imbues its meaning into the fruit. So says me.No wonder the fig tree is seen as sacred, for it is where Buddha found enlightenment. Oh that it could be so easy.

So the next time you bite into a fig ponder: Are you expressing yourself more clearly? Are you aligned with your goals? Are you living up to your greatest potential? Because that is what the wasp DNA is asking.

P.S. Love what you do......

Kathleen from Connecticut

I love figs and have cut them in half, caramelized them in some butter ,shot a dab of mascarpone cheese on one half and then wrapped 2 halves with Bayonne ham...as an amuse bouche.

I didn't know about the bees...oh well a little protein.

Enjoy your figs and the the bounty of your gardens.


Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

Thanks for a most interesting post. Somewhere along the way I learned about the wasp's relationship with the fig but not all of the fascinating details! I have loved fresh figs since I was a child and ate them from my grandmother's fig bushes in North Florida. Perhaps they are like okra in that a taste for them is usually acquired early in life. Kristin, if you have an abundance of them, try drying some. They make a great snack which you can carry anywhere. Bon week-end.

Donna Knight, near Atlanta, GA

I too learned about the wasp connection while looking for fig trees to plant near my home in Georgia (USA). A bit horrified from the picture of a split, unripened fig, I told myself that this must be a "special" type of fig. Now I know the undeniable facts and will continue to enjoy the sweetness.
Also, I want to let you know that I enjoy your enlightening posts. This one was exhilarating and makes me want to notice, smell, taste, listen and experience all that life has to offer.
Merci, Kristin. Continue to inspire!

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Thanks for all this info, Kristin. I had heard this (apparently erroneously) about dates ... and, even though I love them, had stopped eating them. It appears I can return to eating dates! Are dates and figs any way closely related where this could be true of both (one grows on a palm, the other on a tree)? Either way, the sharing of your diligent research makes me aware of the entire (fascinating!) process so I now know they are both safe to eat without fear of biting into a wasp!

Bill Facker

Yummy ... figs with protein! Aloha!

N, San Antonio, Texas

Fascinating! Thank you for passing on this information. I always enjoy reading your posts and learning at the same time. Happy weekend, Nancy

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Timely, just bought fresh figs at the farm stand and immensely enjoyed one last night…my first fresh fig! Chances are good I'll be more cautious with the next one :)

Great interview and just love your answer to God’s welcome at the Pearly Gates. I love you. You never cease to endlessly inspire and delight me after all these years!



I always enjoy your posts. Last night my father and I were dealing with some wasps here in the Okanagan Valley of southern British Columbia. While we were exterminating them I was trying to think of the word for bee in French and all that came to me was miel which is of course honey. Having just returned from Haiti I still have Haitian Creole on my mind. The Creole word for bee is in fact the the French word for honey. However, the Creole word for wasp is gèp and is pronounced exactly like the French word. Thanks for the lesson!
Mesi bokou!

Diane Young

We used to live next door to a man whose fig tree hung over our fence and he encouraged us to pick all we wanted. My husband became obsessed with making fig preserves so we were eating them for a few years until he got fed up. Literally. Never saw any wasps.
The artist for the blog is really talented. She (?) caught your expressions quite well. Thanks for sharing.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Pretty fascinating. Usually animals turn plants into animal protein. The fig turns animal protein into a plant. Totally new story to me. Someday I should try a fresh fig.

one typo in this story
Was that I worm I just saw?
The first I should be "a", right?

Your life in the south of France seems full of lovely discoveries, especially edible delights that grow at your home.

Jan  Hersh

I had no idea...and we have figs! Thanks for the info!

Chris Allin

A Salad Recipe...

Au pif (learned that term from Kristin!)

Endive...aka Belgian endive
Figs... fresh, chopped
Goat cheese...broken into pieces
Pecan pieces

Toss together with oil and vinegar.
Fig infused vinegar is especially nice.
Also works with dates, Feta cheese and walnuts.


Diana Denny

After gorging on fresh figs from our tree in Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada, and sharing them with neighbours, I put several at a time in to 1/2 pint jars not adding anything else, and process them in boiling water for about 10 min. They are a delight to find on the shelf mid-winter, and eaten either with ice cream or cheese.
Wasps here love to get the ripe ones at the top of the tree. I have not noticed any around earlier. Interesting story.
Keep up the good work, entertaining us and teaching in a kind and meaningful way, Kristin.
Diana Denny,

Maria Cochrane

Kristin - just want you to know that we had our first 'dinner party' in our new home (in the mountains of western NC) and I made your fudge! I've never made fudge in my life. I served it with Orange sherbet and it turned out great. Said a prayer about 'getting it out' and I'm glad you included what your step mom did with the hot water for a moment.
It was 200 calories for 16 pieces - I measured. Excellent. merci!

Suzanne in New Jersey

We have a fig tree and I always knew that wasps factored in but I didn't know the facts. This is fascinating. So I wonder if in years when we don't have a good yield it means we don't have wasps. I'll have to do some research on that. Thanks, as always, Kristin.

Leslie NYC

Figs are so luscious and morels are amazing. It you worry about morels, just split them lengthwise and give them a rinse. Any bugs tend to be in the center tube and are easy to see. The taste is not to be missed. I didn't grow up with either, but love them both as an adult.


Our dear Kristi,
Not only a beautiful picture but (another!) wonderful post!
I don't think there is anything quite so heavenly as a fresh,ripe fig. (granted,we are huge fig lovers!) But when we had two fig trees in our orchard, those mornings when God graced us with such a treat,we truly had to give thanks--and I remember that to this day.
THANK YOU for bringing this to my meory!
Love, Natalia XO

Julia ~ Falling Off Bicycles

Fascinating biology lesson there. I'll look at those delicious figs a bit differently now but appreciate the circle of life a bit more. Thanks, Kristin.

Dana Wilson

Chère amie,

As I began reading it, I was sure your story would turn out to be another Poisson d'Avril ! ... I was fully expecting you to mention the oil you needed to polish the skulls in the necropolis, or some exotic insecticide that would rid the trees of their scourge.

But no, these were genuine figues with real, squirming asticots in them!

Yeccch! Native Americans on our California Coast ate banana slugs (look them up on Wikipedia). Figues are right up there with them now, IMHO. I feel much the same about eel, but that is MY problem.

Your writing is so much fun, and your photos are beautiful. Thanks for the pleasure they bring to us!


Pat Cargill

This is one of your best posts ever! Love the biology leçon mixed with family fun. I have never liked figs, but now am going to try them! Maman Nature never fails to upend our picky-pooky persnickety ways!!

Interesting for me, as well, because just this morning I began reading Barbara Kingsolver's excellent book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life. "The family...journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy food raised in their neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it." Full of food history and I highly recommend. Even if we make small steps to eat locally, it matters.

Merci, K, for the challenge!


Fascinating, Kristin. Thank you. And, yes, I will now inspect more carefully the figs I plan to eat before putting them in my mouth....

Can't believe it's been just a year since you moved.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Odile, for the correction--and thank you all for these lively comments. (Mom, I cant remember if I thanked you for yours, which sparked all kinds of hope inside of me! Heres to more research and to the stories that follow).

I have been editing and updating this post -- and have included a helpful bit about the size of the wasps I wrote about: they dont call them les guepes liliputienne or liliputian wasps for nothing! Enjoy the updates. It would be fun to add some interesting facts--such as this one: figs are thought to be the first domesticated crop. 

Audrey Wilson

Well ,well ! Nature never fails to astonish us . Can't say I have come across the same thing with the figs around here ,but will look a little more carefully in future.
Thanks for the biology lesson !

Dianne Sharr

Les guêpes aiment bien la bière aussi. Difficile de boire une bière dans le jardin quand les guêpes sont autour. :-)

Georgia Schall just north of San Francisco

Ymmm . . . I love figs, too! My sister has a BIG tree and from time to time her husband picks some and gives them to us since they don't like figs. Lucky us! We have now planted a miniature fig tree but so far not many figs. I had no idea about the wasps! Must look more carefully the next time at the figs!

My favorite way to eat this delicious fruit is to simply cut them in half lengthwise and add a slice of goat Gouda cheese on top. I discovered that they fit nicely into a deviled egg dish and it looks very pretty at a party! Bon Appetite!

Patty Gärtner

Dear Kristin,
Loved the post about the Figs...We had a dinner party Saturday and the salad course was Salad Chevre Chaud with fresh figs. It was drizzled with a light vinaigrette, then a sprinkling of Date Balsamic Vinegar.. Delish !!! Patty aus Deutschland.

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