Food from the kitchens of yesteryear centered around ingredients that the cook had at hand. The kitchen was a seasonal workshop utilizing whatever was fresh and, with limited transportation options, local as well. These ingredients were prepared simply to produce tasty and healthy meals, and the excess bounty of the harvest was preserved to assure a full larder for use throughout the less fruitful seasons of the year.
Some would make the point that this take on the art and craft of cookery is old-fashioned and out of date, but I for one, disagree with this perspective. When you consider the dishes that are promoted by the modern food and cooking media—Coq Au Vine, Cassoulet, Bruschetta, and Paella, just to mention a few—as examples of fine cooking, one is struck by the fact that all were originally created and prepared with love in simple kitchens, with simple techniques and tools, using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
Within this same line of thought, I also suggest that you turn away from the concept that only talented professionals can produce great food. Yes, proper technique and tools can make the labor in the kitchen easier, and experience cannot be discounted, but I point out that it was in stone-floored kitchens where simple but proud people developed and refined the great dishes of the world.
So, the secret to great cooking is no secret at all—just love, fresh ingredients, simple preparation techniques, and a desire to provide the best for you, your family, and friends.